Pakistan’s foreign ministry has ruled out the possibility of a “prisoner swap” with the United States for Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to a compound in the north of the country.
The denial came in response to Pakistani media reports that Afridi was either being prepared for a prisoner exchange or was facing security risks, following his recent transfer to a different prison.
“I am not aware of any deal regarding Dr Shakil Afridi,” said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Muhammad Faisal at a press briefing on Thursday.
“On behalf of [the foreign ministry], I can assure you that he is not being handed over to US.”
Afridi has been in Pakistani custody since 2011, and was convicted the following year by a tribunal to 33 years in prison for aiding the Lashkar-e-Islam armed group, his lawyer, Qamar Nadeem, told Al Jazeera.
Afridi has denied the charges and is in the process of appealing the verdict. His sentence was reduced to 23 years in 2014, his lawyer said.
No charges have been brought against him regarding his aiding the CIA in administering fake vaccinations to members of bin Laden’s family in the northern city of Abbottabad in order to confirm their identities.
US officials have since confirmed Afridi’s role in the operation, with US President Donald Trump vowing during his election campaign to pressure Pakistan to release him.
US special forces launched a covert raid into Pakistani territory in May 2011 to capture or kill bin Laden. The al-Qaeda chief and 9/11 mastermind and several associates were killed in the operation.
Possible prison transfer
On April 27, Afridi was moved from a prison in Peshawar, where he has been held since 2012, although no official reason was given for the step to be taken, his lawyer said.
“Last Friday he was shifted, but we were not officially told where he was moved,” said Nadeem. “Neither his family, nor his lawyers know where he is right now.”
The interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The move prompted sections of Pakistan’s press to speculate that Afridi was either being prepared for a prisoner swap with the United States, or was facing security risks.
“We are aware of reports that Dr Afridi has been transferred to another prison,” a US Embassy spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
“We expect the government of Pakistan to take all necessary measures to ensure Dr Afridi’s safety”, the spokesperson said.
The next hearing in Afridi’s appeal is due on May 31, but the case has faced consistent delays, with government prosecutors often not appearing or requesting additional time from the tribunal.
Afridi was sentenced by a four-member tribunal of civil administrators under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a colonial era law that rights activists have long argued violates citizens’ fundamental rights.
His appeal has been ongoing before a separate tribunal.[source: Al Jazeera]