On the second anniversary of the daring, May 2, 2011 raid that killed Usama bin Laden, the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA hunt down the Al Qaeda leader is on a hunger strike and no closer to being freed from prison, sources tell Fox News.
Shakil Afridi’s next court hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was pushed back yet again to a date in June. Afridi, who is being denied access to his family and legal team, stopped eating days after an April 25 court date. Relatives fear Afridi, who was officially convicted of treason but is widely believed to be punished for helping to expose Pakistan as Bin Laden’s longtime safe haven, is running out of hope.
“This is the second time he has gone on hunger strike,” a close relative of the Afridi family told Fox News, noting the doctor was hoping to pressure Pakistani authorities into at least allowing him to see his relatives.
Afridi’s lawyers and family were optimistic that Judge Sahibzada Anees, whom they call “a fair man,” would help speed Afridi’s appeal at Wednesday’s hearing. Afridi’s lawyers had hoped to counter the charges against him, saying the specific laws he was convicted of breaking can only be leveled with approval of the Pakistani federal government and not by regional authorities. Afridi’s team also argued that the Political Agent of the tribal area who sentenced him to 33 years in prison lacked the jurisdiction to punish anyone beyond three years.
Aside from the technical and procedural arguments, Afridi’s team is hoping Anees will see the prosecution of the doctor as the witch hunt that critics around the world – including key U.S. lawmakers – believe it to be. But they also fear the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is behind Afridi’s prosecution, and could reverse any ruling Anees might make in Afridi’s favor.
“There is no evidence,” said a lawyer associated with the case. “We are hopeful that the judgment will be passed in our favor unless pressure from Islamabad changes the decision.”
Afridi has completed one year in jail and spent another at Pakistan Intelligence Agency’s notorious prison, a penal black hole where enemies of the government and ISI often languish for decades – or lifetimes. Senior Pakistani security officials speaking on the condition of anonymity recently told FoxNews.com Afridi has been moved from his Peshawar prison cell to an undisclosed location amid death threats emanating from inside and outside the prison.
Another factor in the decision to move Afridi was to keep him from making unauthorized contact with media. In August, two Fox News reporters spoke exclusively to Afridi by phone after two sympathetic prison guards gave the doctor phones to contact his family. Afridi’s wife is hiding with the couple’s three children, ages 10 to 15, who haven’t seen their father in two years.
Despite the charges he consorted with terrorists, it is generally accepted he is being punished for capturing one. To help the CIA positively identify Bin Laden's presence at his Abbottabad compound, Afridi set up a Hepatitis B vaccination program and collected DNA samples from the home’s inhabitants. It was during a phone conversation Afridi had with known Bin Laden courier Sheikh Abu Ahmed Al-Kuwaiti while he was waiting to get into the compound that National Security Agency eavesdroppers verified Al-Kuwaiti’s voice – and thus Bin Laden’s presence inside. But following the well-chronicled raid by U.S. Navy SEALs that ended in Bin Laden’s death, Afridi was left behind, abducted and tortured by Pakistan intelligence operatives.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., recently introduced a bipartisan resolution to recognize Afridi as an American hero, and called for his immediate release or cancellation of billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan. The State Department also has blasted the continued imprisonment of Afridi
“We believe that the prosecution and conviction of Dr. Afridi sends the wrong message about the importance of our shared interest in taking down one of the world’s most notorious terrorists, which was clearly in Pakistan’s interests, as well as ours and the rest of the world,” said State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell. “We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has made the point in direct talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, according to Ventrell.
Two Pakistani security officials told FoxNews.com no talks are ongoing between the U.S. and Pakistan regarding release of Afridi. One military official admitted that there is “enormous pressure” from the U.S., but said Pakistan will not give in.
“Dr. Shakil Afridi betrayed the country,” the military official said. “He should have informed the Pakistani intelligence agencies instead of helping foreigners.”