The Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track down al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden is still rotting away in a Pakistani jail on spying charges, but his wife and children are now free to leave the country after a top court ordered their names be taken off the exit control list (ECL).
Neither Imrana Shakil, wife of Dr. Shakil Afridi, nor the Afridis’ children have been convicted of any crime, Arif Jan Afridi argued before a single-member bench of the Peshawar High Court, yet they are unable to move anywhere after being placed by the government on the ECL.
“No crime has been proved against my client Imrana Shakil,” the counsel told the court on Thursday, according to the Hindustan Times. “Neither has she been arrested yet. Names of Imrana Shakil and her children have been placed in the ECL merely on the basis of some reports.”
“The Deputy Attorney General told the court that their names have been placed in the ECL on the reports of the security agencies and added that since, currently, there is a caretaker government in the country it doesn’t have the power to remove the names from the ECL,” the outlet reports.
However, according to the ruling by Justice Abdul Shakoor, security agencies don’t have the right to place any names on the ECL.
“When they have not committed any crime, how can their names be placed on the ECL?” Justice Shakoor rhetorically asked. “(Therefore) placing their names on ECL is illegal.”
Dr. Afridi’s story reads like a Cold War spy novel.
The pro-American physician ran a fake hepatitis vaccine program that allowed the CIA to confirm bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, Pakistan, via comparisons of DNA samples.
Rather than pull him out of the region after the 2011 raid that led to bin Laden’s death, the United States left the doctor there, where he would be swiftly arrested.
While hailed as a hero in America, the physician was imprisoned on charges of treason in his home country and reportedly tortured by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, including being burned with cigarettes and electrocuted.
Dr. Afridi was initially handed “a 33-year sentence on multiple charges of anti-state activities, including extending support to militant outfits,” Hindustan Times reports. “His sentence was later reduced to 23 years.”
In a remark reminiscent of his current claims that he could put an end to the war in Ukraine in just 24-hours, then-candidate Donald Trump claimed in 2016 that it would take him mere “minutes” to secure Afridi’s release.
“I think I would get him out in two minutes, I would tell them ‘let him out,’ and I’m sure they’d let him out because we give a lot of aid to Pakistan, we give a lot of money to Pakistan,” Trump said, according to The Economic Times.
That was tried under the Obama administration, and it failed to work.
In 2012, a U.S. Senate appropriations committee “voted to cut Pakistan’s aid by $1m for each of the 33 years” of Afridi’s initial sentence, The Guardian reported at the time.
Nevertheless, a $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by then-President Trump withheld “$33 million in financial assistance to Pakistan unless the Secretary of State informs the Congress that Dr Shakil Afridi is released from jail and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the US in locating Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden,” The Indian Express reported in March of 2018.
Again, the pressure failed to free Afridi.
Years later, the doctor’s plight continues to be raised in Washington D.C.
In June of this year, the State Department’s Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel was asked if there were “any new efforts” to free Afridi.
“I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize,” Patel replied. “I also am not going to get into the specifics of the case given privacy concerns, beyond saying that all across the world, when American citizens are detained, we take steps to ensure that they have consular access, and that will continue to be the case.”
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