A tribal court in Pakistan's Khyber Agency has sentenced Dr Shakil Afridi, the person who helped CIA track down al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, to 33 years of rigorous imprisonment after convicting him of treason charges, officials said late Wednesday.
According to local media reports citing unnamed officials, Dr. Afridi was charged with "conspiracy against the State of Pakistan and high treason" for spying on bin Laden without bringing it to the notice of the government of Pakistan."
Dr. Afridi was accused of running a fake CIA-sponsored vaccination program in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed in an covert operation carried out by US special forces in May 2011, to obtain a DNA sample from the terror mastermind.
The doctor, who was working at Abbotabad hospital, was arrested by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency shortly after the US Operation that killed the al-Qaeda chief. Islamabad insisted later that any country would have taken such an action if one of its citizens was found to have worked for a foreign spy agency.
Dr. Afridi was convicted under the tribal justice system in which the administrative head of the tribal district assumes the role of the judge. Under such a system, the verdicts are generally swift and often without regular judicial procedures.
In addition to the jail term, Dr. Afridi has also been fined about $3,500. If he fails to pay the fine, the doctor could have his prison sentence extended by up to three more years. Notably, Dr. Afridi, who is currently held in a prison in Peshewar, was not present at the court when he was sentenced.
The United States was quick to denounce Dr. Afridi's sentencing, with State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying: "We continue to see no basis for these charges, for him being held, for any of it."
"We have regularly taken up this matter with Pakistan. I would expect we will continue to. I think we've said that we don't see any basis for what's happened here, and so, you know, we will continue to make those representations to the government of Pakistan," she added.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had appealed to Islamabad for releasing Dr. Afridi, insisting that his arrest and continued detention was a mistake.
"Dr Afridi was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan. 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 in January.
by RTT Staff Writer
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