Afridi's Appeal to be Decided on 2nd Anniversary of Bin Laden Raid

Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who reportedly helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden in Abottabad through a vaccination program, will hear the verdict of his appeal this Thursday, May 2--ironically, the second anniversary of the successful bin Laden raid. 

The Pakistani Express Tribune reports that the decision could be handed down on the fateful anniversary of the raid, while other local news outlets indicate that the decision will only be made public the following day.

Meanwhile, Dr. Afridi's lawyers announced that he had embarked on a hunger strike to protest his lack of access to legal counsel, denial of family visits, and poor conditions in the prison where he is being held in Peshawar. He is currently serving a 33-year sentence.

On April 25, Dr. Afridi re-started a long-frustrated appeal process following the appointment of a new regional commissioner in Peshawar, Sahibzada Anees. On Thursdays, Anees acts as Frontier Crimes Regulation commissioner, hearing appeals under a tribal justice code established over a century ago by the British colonial authorities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near Afghanistan.

Under the code, cases are not heard by a judge but by an Assistant Political Adviser (APA), who acts both as judge and prosecutor in consultation with the members of a jirga appointed from along local tribal leaders. Dr. Afridi was not allowed to use a lawyer nor speak in his own defense. The 33-year sentence is in excess of the period that the APA is entitled to impose, and the appeal has been delayed long beyond the 60 days that are provided for by law--the result of deliberate stalling by the government, Dr. Afridi's lawyers suggest.

Meanwhile, with the second anniversary of the bin Laden raid looming, U.S. legislators are renewing calls for Dr. Afridi's freedom--and suggesting that aid to Pakistan could suffer if he is not released. Last week, during a meeting of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that he would introduce a floor amendment to the foreign aid bill calling for aid to Pakistan to be withheld "until Dr. Afridi, the man who helped us bring to justice Osama bin Laden is freed from a Pakistani dungeon."

"The American people need to be outraged that Pakistan is holding Dr. Afridi in the first place after giving safe haven to Osama bin Laden, the murderer of 3,000 of our citizens," Rep. Rohrabacher said. "But for us then to give them aid on top of that is absolutely unconscionable.

"And so, Mr. Chairman, I will be offering amendment until Dr. Afridi is freed, we shouldn't even consider giving them one penny," he concluded. Other legislators, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), have suggested similar measures on Dr. Afridi's behalf in the past.

Dr. Afridi's case has become an important cause in Pakistan, not just because of the bin Laden raid but because of its broader importance to legal reform efforts. Lawyers and human rights activists have said that the case points to the need for the FATA legal and judicial structures to be integrated into the rest of the Pakistani system, and for the Pakistani constitution to be amended to remove the last vestiges of British colonial rule in the area, which permit abuses of power by the executive through the tribal courts.

In late 2012, Dr. Afridi launched a hunger strike that earned the notice of U.S. officials. State Department spokespoerson Victoria Nuland stated that U.S. officials had raised the issue with Pakistani counterparts and had insisted on his release. "We want to see Dr Shakil Afridi released and safe,” Nuland said, “Dr Shakil Afridi should never have been locked up to begin with.” 

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pakistani officials in Brussels but no reports emerged of any discussion regarding the fate of Dr. Afridi.



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