Lawyers for Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who allegedly inadvertently helped the U.S. government find terror chief Osama bin Laden almost two years ago, claim that he has a “fifty-fifty” chance of being freed by Islamabad authorities.
Since U.S. Navy Seals located and assassinated bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011, Afridi was an embarrassment to the Pakistani government, which had him arrested and imprisoned.
Pakistani officials claimed that Afridi was working for the CIA to help locate bin Laden through a fake vaccination program in the vicinity of Abbottabad. In May 2012, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason and for having links to the outlawed Lashkar-e-Islam militant organization -- and his case has been under appeal ever since.
Now, according to a report in Breitbart.com, Afridi’s attorneys in Pakistan are more optimistic that their client may be released than ever before, due to an accelerated appeals process.
Breitbart reported that Afridi’s legal team gave an update on the case to Robert Lorsch, a Los Angeles-based philanthropist and chief executive of MMR Global Inc. (OTCQB: MMRF), a medical records firm, who has been campaigning for Afridi's freedom.
Afridi is now reportedly on a hunger strike at Peshawar Central Jail to protest poor prison conditions and denial of family visits.
He has repeatedly denied that he cooperated with the CIA in any way.
Until now, Afridi’s lawyers complained that they have been restricted from access to their client, while the courts have continued to adjourn hearings on the matter for the past year.
“Our client has not been given the opportunity to present his defense, which is contrary to his rights,” Samiullah Afridi, one of Afridi’s lawyers, said, according to the Pakistan Express Tribune.
A decision on Afridi’s case is expected to come down from the Pakistani judiciary on May 2, the second anniversary of bin Laden's death, according to the Tribune.
The development follows a meeting held by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Pakistani government officials in Europe. However, it is unclear if Kerry discussed the Afridi case with his Pakistani counterparts.
One of the leading voices for Afridi’s release has been California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, who, along with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, has demanded that any financial aid to Pakistan be conditional on Dr. Afridi’s release.
During a session of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Rohrabacher called for aid to Pakistan to be withheld "until Dr. Afridi, the man who helped us bring to justice Osama bin Laden, is freed from a Pakistani dungeon."
Kerry, for his part, has made assurances that he has not forgotten Afridi’s plight.
Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, said in a statement: "We want to see Dr. Shakil Afridi released and safe. Dr. Shakil Afridi should never have been locked up to begin with.”
Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and former defense chief Leon Panetta have also called for Dr. Afridi’s freedom.
But Rohrbacher remains cautious about Afridi’s chances of release.
"I would advise not to get your hopes up too high, because until the moment that Dr. Afridi is released and is outside the jurisdiction along with his family, we do not know whether or not some radical Islamic fanatic will pound on the table and force a reversal of this strategy, if this is indeed the strategy of Pakistan right now,” the Congressman told Breitbart News.
"This report is certainly better than a report that would indicate that they're hardening their stand, and they're going to make him an example. But these brutal men who run Pakistan would not in any way consider compromising on the decision they made to go get him.”
However, he added: "There are good people in the Muslim world, and if they think we are just going to abandon them, we don't have a chance. It's only through them that we have a chance to stand up and defeat Islamic terrorism."
Tara Olivia Setmayer, communications director and spokesman for Rohrabacher, told International Business Times that the Congressman has no idea what the odds are of Pakistani authorities releasing Afridi, but “overturning his conviction would be a step in the right direction.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.