Afridi jailed for links with banned Islamist group

Islamabad: A Pakistani doctor, who helped CIA track Osama bin Laden, was sentenced to 33-years in jail by a tribal court on charges of links with the banned Lashkar- e-Islam militant group and its chief Mangal Bagh Afridi and not for his involvement with the American spy agency.

The four-member tribal court in Khyber Agency did not entertain evidence related to Shakeel Afridi`s involvement with the CIA, saying it did not have the jurisdiction to consider this issue, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The court recommended that Afridi should be produced before a relevant court for further proceedings for his links with the CIA, the paper quoted court documents as saying.

The tribal court`s order has left the option open for Afridi`s trial in another court under the treason law that entails the death penalty. The tribal court gave Afridi a 33-year prison term and fined him Rs 320,000 under clauses of the British-era Frontier Crimes Regulation.

Afridi`s conviction has been condemned by rights activists and American lawmakers and officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It had previously been reported by state-run APP news agency that Afridi had been convicted for helping the CIA track bin Laden by running a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad.

The doctor was arrested shortly after bin Laden was killed in a unilateral American military raid in Abbottabad on May 2 last year. His brother Jamil Afridi and a panel of lawyers have said they intended to appeal and challenge his conviction.

On May 23, the tribal court in Khyber Agency convicted Afridi on four counts of anti-state activities. In its five-page order, the court said: "Though the JIT (Joint Investigation Team) contains evidence of the involvement of accused in activities wherein he has been shown acting with other foreign intelligence agencies, all this evidence could not be taken into account for the lack of jurisdiction."

The tribal court instead convicted Afridi of maintaining close links with the Lashkar-e-Islam, which operates in Bara and Tirah areas of Khyber Agency.

He was accused of providing financial aid to the Lashkar- e-Islam and treating its injured fighters. He was also charged with facilitating the group`s attacks on security forces. "In a militancy infested tribal region it`s rare to see a member of an outlawed group or terrorist organisation being tried or convicted. However, Dr Afridi was sentenced to such a harsh jail term not for involvement in any act of terrorism but on the charge of having links with (Lashkar-e-Islam chief) Mangal Bagh," the Dawn reported. The Lashkar-e-Islam, which is believed to have ties with the Taliban, was banned in June 2008.