A Pakistani doctor who helped the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) track down al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad mansion has been sentenced to 33 years in jail on treason charges.
Dr Shakil Afridi was accused of running a phony vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that helped the American spy agency hunt down Bin Laden in May last year.
The court of Assistant Political Agent (APA) for Bara sub-division of Khyber Agency, Nasir Khan, sentenced Dr Afridi to 33-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs320,000 following a secret trial at an undisclosed location. In case of failure to pay the fine, he will have to serve another three-and-a-half years jail-term.
Under the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a British-era set of laws that govern the tribal regions, the APA, an administrative office, also enjoys special judicial powers. The FCR also doesn’t give an accused the right to hire a defence.
“Dr Shakil, s/o Mewa Khan, from Malikdin Khel sub-clan of Afridi tribe and a resident of Khyber Agency, was sentenced under Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) clauses related to offences against the state, conspiracy or attempt to wage war against the state, spying and allying with a foreign government against the state’s interests,” a Khyber administration official told journalists on Wednesday.
“Dr Afridi was tried secretly and he was found guilty,” the official said, adding that after APA’s court Dr Afridi was produced in the superior court of PA Muthar Zeb who upheld the sentence. Subsequently, he was sent to Peshawar’s central prison.
Unlike the PPC, FCR do not carry the death penalty for treason. However, Dr Afridi has the right to appeal his punishment. Dr Afridi was arrested by intelligence agencies following the May 2, 2011 raid on Bin Laden’s compound by US special forces. He has not been publicly heard of since.
He was handed over to the Khyber Agency’s administration a few days ago because he was serving as Agency Surgeon in a hospital in the Landi Kotal sub-division at the time of his arrest. A lawyer said that PPC’s Section 121 deals with “attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against the state”. Only a sessions court can hear such cases – and the maximum punishment for the offence is death penalty, the lawyer told The Express Tribune, requesting that his name not be mentioned in the report.
He believed that instead of APA, the political agent should have tried Dr Afridi because his case has become high-profile. “The accused has the right to appeal his sentence before Peshawar’s commissioner who is also commissioner FCR under the law,” he added.
Fata Lawyers’ Forum President Ejaz Mohmand, however, disagreed. He conceded that all sections under which Dr Afridi has been sentenced are from PPC, but the APA has the powers under Section 11 of FCR to sentence a person.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2012.