Islamabad, May 23: A Pakistani doctor who helped the US track down Osama bin Laden was convicted of high treason on Wednesday and sentenced to 33 years in prison, officials said, a verdict that is likely to further strain the country’s relationship with Washington.
Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden’s presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad where US commandos killed the al-Qaida chief last May. The operation outraged Pakistani officials because they were not told about it beforehand.
Senior US officials have called for Afridi to be released, saying his work served Pakistani and American interests. His conviction comes at a sensitive time because the US is already frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. The supply routes were closed six months ago in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Afridi also was ordered to pay a fine of about $3,500 and will spend an additional three and half years in prison if he does not, said Nasir Khan, a government official in the Khyber tribal area, where the doctor was arrested and tried.
Afridi was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, or FCR, the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region. Human rights organizations have criticized the FCR for not providing suspects due process of law. There is no right to legal representation, to present material evidence or cross-examine witnesses. Verdicts are normally handed down by a Khyber government official in consultation with a council of government elders.
Afridi has the right to appeal the verdict, said Iqbal Khan, another Khyber government official.