PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A senior judicial official on Thursday overturned the prison sentence of a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden and ordered his retrial, citing procedural problems with the initial trial.
The official, Sahibzada Mohammad Anis, issued the ruling because the person who sentenced Dr. Shakil Afridi to 33 years in prison was not authorized to hear the case, said an official, Feroz Shah.
Afridi was convicted in May 2012 of ‘‘conspiring against the state’’ by giving money and providing medical treatment to Islamist militants in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal area. The doctor’s family and the militants denied the allegations.
The case has caused friction between Pakistan and the United States, complicating a relationship that Washington views as vital for fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as negotiating an end to the war in Afghanistan.
In the United States and other Western nations, Afridi was viewed as a hero who had helped eliminate the world’s most wanted man. The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA in an attempt to verify the Al Qaeda leader’s presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad. US commandos later killed bin Laden there in May 2011 in a unilateral raid.
Pakistani officials were outraged by the bin Laden operation, which led to international suspicion that they had been harboring him. In their eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.
The doctor will again be tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, or FCR, the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region, though by the top political official in Khyber, Shah said. Afridi was previously tried by the official’s assistant.
It’s unclear whether a retrial will result in Afridi being released or simply receiving a reduced sentence. Freeing the doctor would remove a sore point between Pakistan and the United States, but the operation still causes consternation in Pakistan.