Retrial for Bin Laden doctor accused of aiding militants

The prison sentence of a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden has been overturned and a retrial ordered.

Senior judicial official Sahibzada Mohammad Anis issued the ruling yesterday because the person who originally sentenced doctor Shakil Afridi to 33 years in prison was not authorised to hear the case.

Although Afridi was accused of helping the CIA, he was convicted in May last year of conspiring with Islamic militants in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal area by giving them money and medical treatment.

Both Afridi’s family and the militants have denied the allegation.

Afridi was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s sem-iautonomous tribal region.

Mr Anis, who ordered a retrial, is a commissioner under the regulations.

The case has caused friction between Pakistan and the United States, complicating a relationship that Washington views as vital for fighting the Taliban and al Qaida, as well as negotiating an end to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

In the US and other Western nations, Afridi was viewed as a hero who had helped eliminate the world’s most wanted man.

The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA in an attempt to verify the al Qaida leader’s presence at the compound in Abbottabad.

Pakistani officials were outraged by the bin Laden operation, which led to international suspicion that they had been harbouring al Qaida’s founder.

In their eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.

Officials in Washington have called for Afridi to be released.

The doctor’s lawyer, Samiullah Khan, welcomed the decision to order a retrial, saying: “I think it is a good achievement for us.” He called the original decision to sentence Afridi to 33 years in prison “totally illegal”.

But Mr Khan said he was concerned about the decision to once again hold the trial under the Frontier Crimes Regulations. He would rather the case be heard by a judge under Pakistan’s normal legal system.

Mr Khan said he had not been able to share the news with his client. The doctor has been held in prison with little contact to the outside world and the lawyer said it had been months since he had seen his client. The lawyer informed Afridi’s brother who was “very happy with the decision”.