Surgeon jailed for 33 years over bin Laden hunt
PESHAWAR A PAKISTANI surgeon recruited by the CIA to help find Osama bin Laden was on Wednesday sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason, officials said.
Shakeel Afridi, who was sacked as a government doctor two months ago, was found guilty under the tribal justice system of Khyber district, part of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal belt.
In addition to his jail sentence, he was fined 320,000 rupees ($3,500). The doctor had worked for years as a surgeon in lawless Khyber, part of the Taliban and Al Qaeda infested tribal belt.
Afridi was not present in the court and not given a chance to defend himself, officials said. Under the tribal system, he would not have had access to a lawyer.
“He has been sentenced for 33 years on treason charges and has been moved to Peshawar central jail after the verdict was announced by the local court,” said Mohammad Siddiq, spokesman for the administrative head of Khyber.
In January, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed Afridi had worked for US intelligence by collecting DNA to verify bin Laden’s presence and expressed concern about Pakistan’s treatment of him.
He was arrested shortly after US troops killed the Al Qaeda leader on May 2, 2011 and in October a Pakistani commission recommended that he be tried for treason.
“He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan,” Panetta told CBS television in January.
“For them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part.” Panetta said he believed someone in authority in Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding and as a result Islamabad was not warned about the raid.
Pakistan reacted furiously to what it called a violation of its sovereignty. It insisted it knew nothing about bin Laden’s whereabouts and the operation severely damaged relations with the United States.
Afridi’s trial took place over several days under assistant political agent Nasir Khan in Khyber. The verdict was confirmed by his boss, the political agent, in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, the officials said.
Under Pakistan’s tribal justice system, Afridi has the right to appeal. Critics said on Wednesday that he should not have been tried under tribal law in the tribal belt for an alleged crime that took place outside their jurisdiction.
He was sentenced under penal code clauses related to offences against the state, conspiracy or attempt to wage war against Pakistan, concealing with intent designs to wage war against the state and on charges of working against the country’s sovereignty, a Khyber administration official said.