A Pakistani surgeon recruited by the CIA to help find Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason, officials say.
Shakeel Afridi, who was sacked as a government doctor two months ago, was found guilty on Wednesday under the tribal justice system of Khyber district, part of Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt.
In addition to his jail sentence, he was fined 320,000 rupees ($3,500). He had worked for years as a surgeon in Khyber, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
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,” Mohammad Siddiq, spokesman for the administrative head of Khyber, said.
In January, Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, confirmed that Afridi had worked for US intelligence by collecting DNA to verify bin Laden’s presence and expressed concern about Pakistan’s treatment of him.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said that Afridi was very well-known as a doctor in the Khyber area.
“He was picked up about two weeks after the bin Laden operation on suspicion of assisting Americans,” he said.
Afridi had worked for years in the Khyber tribal region, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters
In October a Pakistani commission recommended that Afridi 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 US.
Afridi was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, or FCR, the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal region. Human-rights organisations have criticised 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.
Right to appeal
Afridi’s trial took place over several days under Nasir Khan, the assistant political agent, in Khyber. The verdict was confirmed by his boss, the political agent, in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, the officials told AFP news agency.
Under the FCR, Afridi has the right to appeal.
Afridi 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.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported last July that Afridi set up a fake vaccination programme in the hope of obtaining DNA samples from the house where the CIA suspected bin Laden was living.
The US not 100 per cent sure that the al-Qaeda chief was living in the Abbottabad house when President Barack Obama gave the approval for Navy SEALs to raid the compound on May 2.
The Guardian said Afridi had been recruited by the CIA for an elaborate scheme to vaccinate residents for hepatitis B, a ploy to get a DNA sample from those living in the house to see if they were bin Laden family members.