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May 30, 2012

Court: Pakistani Dr. Jailed for Militant Ties, Not Helping CIA

by Ayaz Gul

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Court documents obtained by VOA say the Pakistani doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden was jailed last week not for working with the CIA, but for links to militants. Shakil Afridi’s conviction has dealt a serious blow to already strained ties between the U.S. and Pakistan.

The United States has been demanding that Pakistan release Afridi, calling his detention unjust and unwarranted.  A U.S. Senate committee even symbolically voted to cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million, for every year of the doctor's sentence.

In its detailed judgment released Wednesday, however, the Pakistani tribal court says Afridi was found guilty of having close ties to militant groups waging war against the state. The verdict says that as the head of a government hospital in his native Khyber tribal district, Afridi was facilitating treatment of wounded militants linked to the outlawed extremist group, Lashkar-e-Islam, and was funding the group's subversive activities. The document says the association made the doctor liable to be tried for treason.

The surprising revelations come a week after the controversial court announced its brief verdict. It was widely believed at the time that the doctor was punished for helping the United States track down Osama bin Laden. Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign to confirm the al-Qaida leader's presence at his compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

Analysts like Hassan Askari Rizvi say the judgment and subsequent 33-year sentence has surprised many in Pakistan because several well-known clerics have ties to militant groups involved in terrorist attacks.
 
“It seems that he has been framed under those charges in order to avoid the issue of his role in the Osama bin Laden case and his conviction as well as sentence seems exaggerated, unrealistic, and there is a need to provide him an opportunity to go to the higher court,” said Rizvi.

Professor Rizvi said the latest court details are unlikely to stop the United States from pressing Pakistan to release Afridi.

Human rights groups also have urged authorities to give the doctor a fair trial, reiterating their long-running demand that Pakistan repeal the tribal justice system, which does not give defendants access to a lawyer.