Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) Commissioner Munir Azam on Saturday reduced Dr. Shakil Afridi's 33- year sentence by 10 years and also his Rs 3.2 lakh fine by Rs. one lakh. Dr. Afridi, who was convicted for his links with a banned terror group, Lashkar i Islam, in 2012 was suspected of helping the CIA track down Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad under cover as part of a polio immunization programme in 2011.
His lawyer Samiullah Afridi told the Hindu on the phone from Peshawar that he had earlier demanded the setting aside of the sentence and a retrial in a plea to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) tribunal which had sent the case to the Commissioner, who is also the appellate authority. But instead of reviewing the case and passing an order on re- trial, the commissioner reduced the sentence and the fine, Mr Afridi said, adding that a fresh plea for a re-trial would be presented to the FATA tribunal next week.
On August 29, 2013 the Frontier Crimes Regulation commissioner in Peshawar, Sahebzada Anees ur Rehman, who later died in a mysterious fire in Islamabad in October, had set aside the trial and sentencing of Dr. Afridi. But in November 2013, Dr. Afridi was charged with murder in Khyber Agency for the death of a boy in 2006-07 during a surgery.
The case was registered by the Khyber agency administration over an incident which happened some years ago when he was practicing at a government run hospital in Bara. After his sentence was overturned, Dr Afridi continues to be lodged in Peshawar jail.
In December 2013, a FATA tribunal in Peshawar disposed of a review petition filed by Dr. Afridi seeking a trial by a sessions judge. The three- member tribunal which reviewed the case asked the FCR commissioner to clarify his predecessor's order.
The tribunal held that the Commissioner in his order in August overturning the sentence was ambiguous about who should conduct a fresh trial in the case and sought clarity on whether it should be by a political agent or a sessions judge.
The US has put pressure on Pakistan to release Dr .Afridi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in January had said that there is no possibility of that happening at the US request.
The Pakistan government had expressed dismay at the US holding back $ 33 million till he was released. The spokesperson Ms Tasnim Aslam had then said that the matter was sub-judice. If the courts exonerated him that would be a different matter but he has been convicted and the review process is taking place, she said.
She had also clarified that the entire allocation for Pakistan is not linked to Dr. Afridi's detention and only $ 33 million dollars was.
The Consolidated Appropriations Bill 2014, approved by the US Congress which was signed into law by the President on January, 17, 2014, proposed to withhold US$ 33 million from assistance on account of Dr. Afridi's detention.
Dr. Afridi's lawyer had appealed against the 33- year sentence to the FCR Commissioner. While setting aside the sentence in August, the Commissioner had said that a political agent had no authority to try the offence or pass sentence and it would have to be conducted in a sessions court by a Political agent acting as assistant judge.
The Frontier Crimes Regulation meant for the tribal areas has a different system where the political agent is a judicial functionary.