PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP/The Blaze) — The family of the Pakistani doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison for helping the United States track down Osama bin Laden said Monday the man is innocent and dismissed his trial as a sham.
The conviction of Shakil Afridi last week added another pressure point in Pakistan’s already fractured relationship with the U.S. Senior American officials have urged Pakistan to release the doctor, and regard him as a hero who worked to stop the terrorist leader. Islamabad views Afridi as a traitor who colluded with a foreign intelligence agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.
Afridi’s older brother Jamil and two lawyers representing the doctor said at a news conference in the frontier city of Peshawar that they will appeal the verdict, which was handed down last week in a tribal court whose proceedings were never made public.
Jamil Afridi, right, brother of a Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi speaks at
a news conference in Peshawar, Pakistan on Monday, May 28, 2012.
“This was a one-sided decision,” said Jamil. “All allegations against him are false. He didn’t do anything against the national interest.”
Afridi was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region. The FCR doesn’t allow suspects to have legal representation, present material evidence or cross-examine witnesses. Verdicts are handled by a government official in consultation with a council of elders, instead of by a judge.
The raid by American commandos infuriated Pakistani officials who were not told ahead of time or of the CIA operation in their country to track him down. Afridi was arrested in the weeks after the raid. He was convicted and sentenced last week for conspiring against the state.
The lawyers said authorities have not given them documents related to the case, including a copy of the verdict.
Afridi’s brother said the doctor had an American visa and pointed out that he stayed in Pakistan after the bin Laden raid for 20 days, and didn’t leave the country.
“Had he been guilty, he would have escaped,” Jamil Afridi said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sunday that the lengthy prison sentence handed to Dr. Shakil Afridi “disturbing.”
“It is so difficult to understand and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our times,” Panetta said. “This doctor was not working against Pakistan.”
U.S. officials have urged Pakistan to release the physician, who ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify the al-Qaida leader’s presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad where U.S. commandos killed him in May 2011.
The strained relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan was on public display at last week’s NATO meeting, where Obama left Pakistan off a list of nations he thanked for help getting war supplies into Afghanistan.
Panetta called the U.S. relationship with Pakistan “one of the most complicated we’ve had.”
“This is a country that still is critical in that region of the world,” he said. “It’s an up-and-down relationship. There have been periods where we’ve had good cooperation and they have worked with us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.