Petitioner moves court against PM’s Aafia-Afridi swap statement


–Premier Imran had earlier said Pakistan would initiate proceedings to swap Dr Shakil Afridi for Dr Aafia Siddiqui

A petitioner on Tuesday moved the Peshawar High Court (PHC) to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Prime Minister Imran Khan over his statement about a possible agreement with the United States to swap Dr Shakil Afridi for Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently serving sentence in a US prison.

Dr Afridi had helped the US in tracking down former Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. He ran a bogus hepatitis B vaccination campaign for the CIA in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, collecting DNA samples that allowed it to locate Bin Laden, but was charged with other terrorism-related offences. His sentence was later reduced to 23 years, which he is appealing against from prison in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui was convicted of attempting to kill two American military personnel and is being held at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal prison for those with mental health needs, after being sentenced to 86 years’ imprisonment in 2010. The Americans accused her of being an al-Qaida “facilitator” who was plotting attacks in New York. For five years before her arrest in 2008, they alleged that they did not know of her whereabouts, declaring her one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists.

Advocate Khursheed Khan, the petitioner said that since PHC had earlier restrained the government from handing over Dr Afridi to any foreign country, PM remarks about striking a deal with the US for swapping him with Dr Aafia amount to contempt of court. He subsequently requested the court to initiate contempt proceedings against the premier and cited the federal government, foreign ministry, interior secretary and the superintendent of Adiala Jail as respondents in his petition.

On July 28, during an interview with Fox News, PM Imran, who was visiting the US at the time, discussed the possibility of a prisoner swap agreement between the two countries which could lead to the exchange of Dr Afia with Dr Afridi.

“There are some decisions which even a prime minister finds difficult because we have an opposition but this is something that can be negotiated,” the premier said.

“We did not discuss it today but we know that the US wants Dr Shakil Afridi so we can negotiate an exchange with Dr Afia,” he said. He added that the issue was quite emotive as Dr Afridi was considered a US spy in Pakistan while Pakistan and the US were allies.

“We in Pakistan have always felt that we were an ally of the US but had we been given information about Osama bin Laden, we would have taken him out,” he said.