'Bin Laden doctor' jailed for militant link, says court

Archive: Orla Guerin reports on Dr Afridi's jailing in May 2012

A Pakistani doctor was jailed last week for alleged links to a banned militant group - not for helping the CIA to track down Osama Bin Laden, the text of the trial court's judgement shows.

The BBC's Orla Guerin says the papers add a bizarre twist to the case.

It was originally thought that Shakil Afridi had been imprisoned for running a fake vaccination programme to gather information for US intelligence.

His family called the allegations "rubbish" and his lawyers will appeal.

Shakil Afridi was jailed for 33 years by the tribal court in a controversial hearing held behind closed doors under Pakistan's tribal justice system.

He has been accused of treason - his family have said all the charges against him are baseless.

Even people who carry out bombings do not seem to get jail terms like this, one human rights campaigner said.

Analysis

It has taken Pakistani officials a week to issue the judgement in Dr Afridi's case - which was heard in secret, under the draconian regulations applying to Pakistan's tribal areas.

Legal experts say the judgement raises many questions, not least whether or not it is the judgement which was agreed last week.

"Nobody knows if this is the judgement that was first written," said lawyer Babar Sattar. "There was no open trial, and no public record."

The 33-year sentence handed down to Dr Afridi - for supporting a militant group - appears unusually severe.

"It certainly looks like an unusually long sentence for that kind of offence," said Mr Sattar. "I think this might be a shrewd move to confuse the debate in the United States."

The text of the judgement - released on Wednesday - makes clear Dr Afridi was tried for "anti-state activities".

It shows he was convicted for providing support and medical treatment to members of the militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam. The judgement says there is also evidence that he was involved with foreign intelligence agencies, and this should now be considered by other courts.

Our correspondent says that whatever the official reason for his conviction, many in Pakistan will believe that Dr Afridi was jailed for helping the CIA locate Osama Bin Laden.

Dr Afridi's conviction may be an attempt to change opinion in the US, where some see him as a hero, our correspondent says.

'Changing tune'

Legal experts say that they cannot recall anyone else getting a sentence of 33 years for such an offence.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says no militant leader or abettor has been tried and jailed in Pakistan's tribal regions.

Meanwhile, Jamil Afridi has told the BBC that suggestions that his brother supported Lashkar-e-Islam were "rubbish".

He said that far from giving a donation to the militants, Dr Afridi had been kidnapped by them and forced to pay a ransom.

"The authorities keep changing their tune," said Jamil Afridi. "Last week they were accusing him of something else. What kind of justice is that?"

In an earlier BBC interview, Jamil Afridi said that he was concerned for his safety and the safety of his brother.

There is some speculation that the judgment - which will be the subject of a legal appeal by Dr Afridi's lawyers on Thursday - may have been released following pressure from Washington.

On Friday a US Senate panel cut $33m (£21m) in aid to Pakistan in response to the jailing - $1m for every year of his sentence.

US officials say Dr Afridi was instrumental in tracking down the al-Qaeda leader and have called for his release. It is not clear if any DNA from Bin Laden or any family members was ever obtained, or whether the doctor even knew the identity of the target.

His conviction has added to strains in US-Pakistani relations, already under pressure because of continuing US drone strikes in Pakistan and because of Islamabad's refusal to re-open overland Nato supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan. The routes were shut down in November since a US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.

Bin Laden was killed by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

His presence in Pakistan embarrassed Islamabad, which argued that the covert US operation was a violation of its sovereignty.

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