The family of the Pakistani doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison for helping the US track down Osama bin Laden said on Monday that the man is innocent and dismissed his trial as a sham.
The conviction of Shakil Afridi last week added pressure to Pakistan’s already fractured relationship with the US.
Senior American officials have urged Pakistan to release the doctor, regarding him as a hero who worked to stop the terrorist leader. However, Islamabad views Afridi as a traitor who colluded with a foreign intelligence agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.
Afridi ran a vaccination campaign on behalf of the CIA to collect blood samples of bin Laden’s family at a compound in Abbottabad where US commandos killed the al-Qaeda leader last year in May. The samples were intended to help the US match the family’s DNA to verify his presence in the garrison city.
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.
“This was a one-sided decision,” Jamil said. “All allegations against him are false. He didn’t do anything against the national interest.”
Afridi was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal region. The FCR do not 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 to capture bin Laden 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 and 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 a US visa and that he stayed in Pakistan after the bin Laden raid for 20 days.
“Had he been guilty, he would have escaped,” Jamil Afridi said.
He did not comment on whether he thought his brother should have helped the US.
The case puts the family in a delicate situation. Anti-American sentiment is widespread in Pakistan, and people who are viewed as supporting the US are sometimes targeted by militants, especially in the tribal areas.
In his first comments on Afridi’s conviction, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Afridi’s actions a “serious offense,” but said he had the right to a fair trial.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday criticized Pakistan over Afridi’s conviction and sentencing, calling it “disturbing.”