PESHAWAR: The Pakistani doctor jailed for 33 years after helping the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) find al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had his sentence overturned on Thursday and faces a retrial, officials said.
Shakeel Afridi was arrested after United States (US) troops killed bin Laden in May 2011 in the town of Abbottabad. Islamabad branded the raid a violation of sovereignty and US relations fell to an all-time low.
Afridi was recruited by the CIA to run a vaccination program in Abbottabad in the hope of obtaining DNA samples to identify bin Laden, although medics never managed to gain access to the family.
He was convicted of treason under Pakistan’s tribal justice system in 2012—not for working for the CIA, for which the court said it had no jurisdiction—but for alleged ties to militants.
Thursday’s decision is likely to be welcomed in the United States, where angry lawmakers saw the original sentence as retaliation and threatened to freeze millions of dollars in vital aid to Pakistan.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced Afridi’s treatment as “unjust and unwarranted.”
Afridi’s lawyer said the commissioner of the northwestern city of Peshawar had set aside the original verdict, handed down in May 2012, and ordered a retrial.
Afridi had been found guilty under the tribal justice system of his home district of Khyber, part of Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt. He was jailed for 33 years and fined $3,500.
The appeal, filed by Afridi’s brother Jamil through lawyers, said the allegations were “false, concocted and without foundation.”
Defense lawyer Samiullah Afridi argued that the official in Khyber had not been authorized to impose such a heavy sentence, there had been no proper trial and his client had not been able to defend himself.
Afridi was not present in court during his trial and could not argue in his own defense, officials said after his conviction. Under the tribal system, he would not have had access to a lawyer.
The appeal, filed on June 1, 2012, said Afridi was kidnapped by militant group Lashkar-e-Islam in 2008 and ordered to pay one million rupees ($10,660), but otherwise had no association with it.
Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, is widely feared for kidnappings and extortion in Khyber, where Afridi worked for years.
The tribal court alleged that Afridi paid two million rupees to the militant group and helped to provide medical assistance to militant commanders in Khyber.
The militants have denied any links to Afridi, saying they fined him for overcharging patients, and have threatened to kill him.