PESHAWAR: A Pakistani judicial official yesterday overturned the 33-year jail sentence passed on Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped CIA agents hunting for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was killed in 2011.
US officials have hailed Afridi as a hero for helping pinpoint bin Laden’s location before the secret May 2011 raid by US special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after more than a decade of searching.
Judicial official Sahibzada Mohammad Anees ordered a new trial on the grounds that another official had exceeded his authority when handing down last year’s sentence. Afridi remains in custody.
“The assistant political agent ... did not have the authority to award 33 years’ imprisonment to Dr. Shakil Afridi,” said the written judgment. “The assistant political agent played the role of a magistrate for which he was not authorised.”
A political agent and his assistant are representatives of the Pakistani government in the tribal areas, which are not covered by the country’s judicial system. Afridi’s sentence further damaged ties between Pakistan and the United States when they had already strained over the bin Laden raid.
Angry US senators symbolically withheld $33m in aid from Pakistan in retaliation.
Relations since then have slowly improved but there remains plenty of residual distrust on both sides.
Lawyer Samiullah Afridi said Afridi plans to submit an application for an early hearing.
Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that is believed to have helped the American intelligence agency track down Bin Laden.
Pakistani officials initially said Afridi would be tried for treason for helping the United States, but court documents showed he was jailed for being a member of a militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam.
Afridi denied the charges and a spokesman for the group said they had no ties with him.
“Shakil was himself kidnapped by militants,” Afridi’s lawyer said. “He had to pay a lot of money for his release. There is no question that a person like him would treat militants or give them funds.”
Afridi’s new trial will be conducted under the auspices of the political agent of Khyber Agency, Anees said in his statement.
Anees is a commissioner with responsibility for law in Pakistan’s tribal areas.