PESHAWAR: On Friday afternoon, television news channels reported Dr Shakil Afridi – the man alleged to have helped the US locate Osama Bin Laden – had gone on a hunger strike for the second time at Central Jail Peshawar where he is imprisoned.
Dr Afridi had observed a hunger strike in November 2012 to protest against the prison administration’s behaviour towards him. The news of a second hunger strike comes at the time when the verdict of Afridi’s appeal against his conviction has been reserved for Thursday (May 2).
Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in jail on May 24, 2012 for aiding banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Islam (LI). The doctor is also accused of helping the CIA hunt down al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden by launching a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad.
A tribal court of Khyber Agency had sentenced Afridi. But soon after the verdict, legal experts and human rights activists challenged the political administration’s decision and a panel of lawyers – mostly from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas – obtained Afridi’s power of attorney to challenge the verdict in court.
The first hearing of the appeal was held before the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) commissioner on June 21, 2012 and was adjourned due to lack of case records. The same happened at the second hearing on July 19, 2012. The subsequent August 30 and September 27 hearings had to be adjourned because of the absence of the FCR commissioner.
Afridi’s lawyers termed the frequent adjournments a ploy to delay the case, and accused the commissioner of violating the FCR. The law under which the appeal is to be heard states any complaint filed before the FCR commissioner must be decided within 60 days, claimed the lawyers.
They also alleged the Assistant Political Agent (APA) had abused his powers because under the FCR the APA can only imprison a person for three years, while the APA had sentenced Afridi to 33 years.
Afridi’s lawyers further claimed it is a must for the federal or provincial government to file a written complaint prior to holding proceedings against Afridi.
“Our client has not been given the opportunity to present his defence, which is contrary to his rights,” asserted Samiullah Afridi, one of Afridi’s lawyers, adding their case is strong since the government had not initiated any proceedings against their client.
After being allowed a meeting with his sisters in August 2012 at Central Jail Peshawar, Afridi has since been barred from meeting his family. The move came following a controversial interview aired by Fox News in which Afridi reportedly claimed he was being tortured by the ISI. The interview, however, was later termed baseless by the government.
Dr Afridi’s longstanding appeal against his conviction is likely to be decided on Thursday since FCR Commissioner Sahibzada Anees reserved his judgment on April 25.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2013.