ISLAMABAD: The decision of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) commissioner to declare null and void the 33-year imprisonment awarded by the political administration of the Khyber Agency to Dr Shakil Afridi has established the contention of his lawyers that their client was not given a fair trial as guaranteed under the 1973 Constitution.
It also shows that he was hastily sentenced under pressure from some powerful quarters, which had been left hugely embarrassed by the Abbottabad raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed.The FCR Commissioner Sahibzada Anees took four months to announce the verdict (on Afridi’s appeal) which had been reserved on April 25, 2013.
The FCR commissioner has ordered a retrial, saying that the Assistant Political Adviser (APA) exceeded his authority while handing down the 33-year imprisonment sentence. Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign to collect DNA samples of Osama bin Laden, which might have helped the American CIA to hunt down the fugitive al-Qaeda chief in the garrison city of Abbottabad. Further accusing him of aiding the banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Islam, Shakil Afridi was tried under Section 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against country or depriving Pakistan of its sovereignty), Section 123 (concealing existence of a plan to wage war against Pakistan), and Section 123-A (condemnation of the creation of the State and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty) of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 124 (Assaulting President/Governor with intention to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power) of the PPC.After a summary trial, Afridi was finally sentenced to 33 years on May 24, 2012 and has been held since then at the Peshawar Central Jail.
However, almost 15 months later, to the surprise of many in the powerful quarters, his contention has been overturned. A panel of lawyers, mostly from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), had challenged the verdict, maintaining that their client was not given a fair trial guaranteed under the Constitution. Appearing before the court of the FCR commissioner, Abdul Lateef Afridi and Samiullah Afridi said the prime charge against their client was having links with the Lashkar-e-Islam led by commander Mangal Bagh, but the prosecution had neither tried him on that charge nor had produced any evidence. They alleged that the Assistant Political Agent (APA) had abused his powers because under the FCR, the APA could only imprison a person for three years, while the APA sentenced Afridi to 33 years.
The lawyers were of the view that an accused could only be tried for anti-state activities if the federal or provincial government had filed a written complaint against him/her, but in the case against their client, no such complaint was there on record. The lawyers pleaded that the sections of law under which Afridi was convicted could only be tried by a sessions judge, whereas in the case of Afridi, the trial was conducted by an Assistant Political Adviser having powers of a magistrate. But Afridi’s lawyers were not the only ones to have raised their voice in his support. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had also expressed concern over the denial of due rights to Afridi, saying his summary trial fell well short of the due process standards on many counts, not least because the core principle of natural justice had been ignored and Afridi was denied due legal assistance.
“His actions may well have been prompted by the declared policy of the State to fight all forms of terrorism. Irrespective of the charge against him, there was no reason for trying Afridi in a tribal court, when the supposed offence had taken place in the garrison city of Abbottabad. Such treatment had given rise to perceptions that the only reason he was tried by a tribal court was to deprive him of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution,” said an HRCP statement while calling upon the government to ensure that Afridi gets a fair trial and is afforded an opportunity to defend himself against the charge brought against him. According to the findings of the Abbottabad Commission report, Afridi was unaware of the fact that he was assigned to collect DNA samples of Osama’s children, though former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called for his release, saying he was instrumental in taking down one of the world’s most notorious murderers.
As the things stand, Afridi is not being allowed to see his family members following the recovery of a satellite phone from his prison cell in the Peshawar Central Jail. Those investigating the recovery of the satellite phone from Afridi believe that his puzzling September 11, 2012 interview with the Fox News was genuine and conducted through a satellite phone. The sizzling interview had opened a Pandora’s box because Afridi was quoted as saying that the Inter Services-Intelligence (ISI) considered the United States its worst enemy. Shakil Afridi had further accused the ISI of funding the militants. “It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI. Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It is just to extract money from the US,” he was quoted by Fox News as saying. However, the ISI had rubbished the Fox interview as ‘fiction’. “There is no evidence to suggest that the Fox News correspondent had interviewed Afridi,” a senior intelligence official had claimed at that time. “It is all concocted and baseless, mainly because of the fact that the jail in which he has been lodged has jammers that block cell phone signals”, the official added while laughing off the claims made by Dr Afridi.
On the other hand, the interviewer, Dominic Di-Natale, claimed that he had personally spoken to Afridi for 40 minutes. But he refused to explain how he landed the interview as he wanted to protect those who had helped him secure the interview.