A Pakistani doctor jailed after helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden faces fresh legal wrangling after an appeal tribunal said a retrial order was “ambiguous” and needed clarification.
Shakeel Afridi was convicted of treason under the country’s tribal justice system for alleged ties to militants and jailed for 33 years in May 2012, but the authorities set aside the sentence in August on appeal and ordered a retrial.
Lawyers for the doctor challenged the August ruling, made by the commissioner of the northwestern city of Peshawar, in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Tribunal on Wednesday.
They sought bail for Afridi and argued that the retrial should involve a complete re-investigation of the case including hearing and cross-examining witnesses again, and not simply a reconsideration of the existing evidence.
The FATA Tribunal said Wednesday in a written judgment that the August ruling was “ambiguous and self-contradictory” and directed the Peshawar commissioner to issue a fresh order to clarify matters.
“The tribunal has asked him to remove ambiguities from his order and make a clear decision and send it back to us,” tribunal chairman Shah Wali Khan told reporters after issuing the order.
Afridi was arrested after US troops killed al-Qaeda chief bin Laden in May 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad. Islamabad branded the raid a violation of sovereignty and US relations fell to an all-time low.
Afridi had been recruited by the CIA to run a vaccination program in Abbottabad in the hope of obtaining DNA samples to identify bin Laden, although medics never managed to gain access to the family.
He was convicted not for working for the CIA, for which the court said it had no jurisdiction — but for alleged ties to militants.
Angry lawmakers in the US saw the original sentence as retaliation for the bin Laden raid and threatened to freeze millions of dollars in vital aid to Pakistan.
The then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced Afridi’s treatment as “unjust and unwarranted”.
Last month Pakistan authorities unexpectedly charged Afridi with murder and fraud over the death of a patient some six years earlier.
His brother Jamil condemned Wednesday’s ruling, accusing the authorities of manipulating the case to keep the doctor in custody.
“The government just want to delay his case as much as it can. They want him to stay in jail,” Afridi told AFP by telephone.
“It is a very simple case and the government stand is very weak, that’s why they planted a murder case against the doctor.”
Under the tribal justice system, Afridi faces a life sentence if convicted in the murder case. Punishment for fraud is seven years in jail, his lawyer said.