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EXCLUSIVE: Pakistani premier pledges to reconsider jailed doctor case

 

Congressional and private activists lobbying to free the doctor who helped the CIA pinpoint Usama Bin Laden have won assurances from Pakistan's prime minister that his government will reconsider the case, Fox News has learned.

In a rare and carefully stage-managed private meeting between a world leader, congressional representatives and a non-government individual during a closed-door official House of Representatives event in Washington, the newly elected Nawaz Sharif committed to task his top law officials with reviewing the prosecution process for Dr. Shakil Afridi, according to those who attended the impromptu meeting.

If sincere, the pledge would be the first time that Afridi would receive anything resembling credible judicial attention after he was tortured and given a 33-year jail sentence on trumped up charges as punishment for aiding the United States.

Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., together with Robert Lorsch of the Free Afridi Campaign heavily pressured the Pakistani leadership about releasing the doctor and allowing him a life in the United States.

"My message to them was: 'What they do with Dr. Afridi is how Pakistan will be judged as a democracy by the rest of the world,'" Lorsch told Fox News in an interview.

The tight-knit gathering, which included Pakistan's national security adviser Sartaj Aziz and finance minister Ishaq Dar, had not been previously announced to the somewhat surprised Pakistani delegation. It lasted around 25 minutes in a side-room immediately prior to dinner hosted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday night.

"This was first time that the leadership in Pakistan realized the importance of Dr Afridi not as a political bargaining tool but as a symbol of how freedom-loving American people regard Pakistan," Lorsch said.

"They prosecuted the man who brought the mastermind of 9/11 to justice," he added.

Lorsch, whose ad campaign caught Hollywood's attention at this year's Academy Awards, threatened the Pakistani delegation with the power of America's entertainment industry.

"I showed them that. Next season's [campaign] is written by Pakistan's actions. Awards season is just around the corner. Let's hope they want the next one to show they took the high road," he said.

Rep. Royce was later joined by other committee members in pressing the delegation later around the dinner table.

"I am hopeful that our strong message spurs action on this case," Royce told Fox News, adding: "But there was nothing definitive from the meeting that justice is going to be done."

Royce raised the question of a prime ministerial pardon or amnesty for Afridi, who has appealed to the American public to help secure his freedom.

But Sharif pointed out that the doctor was awaiting a retrial after his conviction was overturned on a technicality and he couldn't pardon him unless he was reconvicted.

But Afridi has remained held since his 33-year sentence was quashed and Fox news has learned there is a high chance that he will be reconvicted. An appeals court will decide on October 30 if he will be awarded a fresh trial or if a retrial will take place using the original faked evidence against him of aiding outlawed militants.

The tribal court that previously convicted him is presided by a form of judiciary that has a reputation of taking directions from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military-run spy service which remains at odds with the U.S. over the raid in which the Al Qaeda leader was killed. It is the agency that apprehend Afridi shortly afterwards.

A legal professional with close knowledge of the appeal case in Pakistan has told Fox News that additional accusations may be brought against Afridi either as part of a separate trial or any retrial.

Pakistan’s prime minister will find pardoning Afridi a hard sell at home. The doctor has become a public hate figure symbolizing of what is widely considered US interference in domestic affairs.

Additionally, the country's top military chief is about to retire and no replacement has yet been decided. Sharif would need the support for Afridi's release from the next military leader.

Sharif has a deeply acrimonious history of his own with Pakistan's army. He was ousted from office in a 1999 coup, which led to years of military dictatorship.

There were no military leadership representatives traveling with the civil government delegation to Washington last week.