The lawyer defending a Pakistani doctor jailed after helping the United States find Osama bin Laden is quitting the case because of death threats from militants and alleged U.S. interference in the trial, the lawyer said Sunday.
"I am getting threats on a regular basis. Not only is my life in danger, my family is also in danger. I have therefore decided to quit," lawyer Samiullah Khan Afridi said.
Afridi said he made the decision after he received what he described as a "final" warning from militants. Afridi said he represented Dr. Shakil Afridi on humanitarian grounds, but said it is now not possible for him to continue.
The two Afridis are not related.
Shakil Afridi was initially sentenced to 33 years in prison in May 2012 after being convicted of providing money and medical treatment to Islamic militants in Khyber tribal region — not for helping the CIA track down and kill bin Laden in a 2011 raid.
Shakil Afridi’s family and the militants have denied the allegations.
A Pakistani court later reduced Shakil Afridi's sentence 23 years on appeal. He is still in jail and undergoing a retrial, but his lawyer said the U.S. government was unduly interfering.
"The government of America is putting a lot of pressure on the Pakistani government for the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi," he said.
"Our mission and our wish also was to get him released, but our courts are free and they have to work according to a set procedure. I therefore did not like America's unjustified pressure."
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman was not immediately able to comment on the allegations.
The raid — and Shakil Afridi's jail sentence — severely strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, its nominal ally.
Pakistan's powerful army was furious that the U.S. had mounted a military operation on its soil without advance warning. In turn, some U.S. leaders were suspicious that Pakistani security forces may have helped shield bin Laden.
Shakil Afridi is widely believed to have been targeted by Pakistani authorities because of running the vaccination program that collected DNA to try to verify bin Laden's presence in the town of Abbottabad.
Shakil Afridi through his lawyers has denied helping the CIA, though U.S. lawmakers have confirmed he had a role in the hunt for bin Laden. The U.S. has exerted diplomatic pressure for his release.
The original sentence provoked outrage in the U.S. and the government cut a symbolic $33 million from an aid package to Pakistan.
Several militant groups, including the Taliban, have threatened to kill Shakil Afridi if he is ever released.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, AP.