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'A Pakistani surgeon who helped the US Central Intelligence Agency in its search for Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to 33 years in jail for treason.
Shakil Afridi was found guilty by the tribal justice system in the Khyber district under regulations dating back to the era of British rule. The Frontier Crimes Regulations under which he was charged cover offences against the state, conspiracy, or attempts to wage war against the state, and on charges of working against the country’s sovereignty. Had he been tried under Pakistani national law, a guilty verdict would have carried the death penalty.
Afridi, 48, the former surgeon-general in Khyber, had assisted the CIA in its search for bin Laden by setting up a fake hepatitis B vaccination programme with the aim of obtaining DNA samples from the compound where bin Laden was living to confirm his identity.1 US officials have said that he did not know bin Laden was the target. The ruse failed, though the Guardian reports that nurses employed in the scheme obtained a mobile phone number for an individual living in the compound which the CIA was able to use to match the user’s voice with that of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.2
US military authorities have acknowledged that Afridi assisted the CIA, and have defended his actions. “The doctor was never asked to spy on Pakistan,” a US official told the New York Times.3 “He was asked only to help locate Al Qaeda terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the US. He helped save Pakistani and American lives.”
Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has sought Afridi’s release and two leading senators, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican John McCain of Arizona, denounced the court’s sentence. “What Dr Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason,” they said in a statement. “It was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world—a mass murderer who has the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands.”
In addition to the jail sentence, Afridi was fined 320 000 rupees (£3600; €4500; $5700) and will serve a further three and a half years if he does not pay. Afridi was not present in court and did not have a chance to defend himself or have access to a lawyer, officials in Peshawar told Agence France Presse. He was moved to Peshawar central jail after the sentence was announced. He has the right to appeal.
Another 17 health officials who worked on the same CIA programme have lost their jobs but so far have not faced criminal charges. Medical aid charities have criticised the CIA for enlisting medical personnel in the programme, warning that it will make their job much harder.
There has been a lively discussion on doc2doc about whether a doctor should engage in this sort of activity- doing a medical service as a ploy to catch a criminal.
Is this sentence too harsh, whether you think what he did was right or not?