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Pakistani doctor who helped locate bin Laden begins a hunger strike

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Shakeel Afridi, the doctor who helped locate Osama bin Laden, who has been in prison for more than seven years, has started a hunger strike in his cell, according to his lawyer and family on Monday.

His brother Jamil Afridi told AFP after he met the doctor in a prison in Punjab, central Pakistan, that this strike “comes in protest of injustices and inhumane attitudes towards him and his family.”

His lawyer, Qamar Nadim, confirmed to AFP that his client had already started a hunger strike.

Afridi had organized a pseudo-vaccination campaign against hepatitis C that was used as a cover to confirm the presence of al-Qaeda leader bin Laden, who was killed on May 2, 2011 in a US Special Forces operation in the Pakistani area of Abbotabad.

However, shortly after the operation, the doctor was arrested and tried by the Pakistani authorities for linking to extremist groups, a charge that many challenges his health.

He was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment in a sentence which was later reduced to 23 years.

The assassination of bin Laden has caused great embarrassment to the Pakistani government, especially among the military, as they were not notified of the operation carried out by American special forces and targeted the headquarters of the al-Qaeda leader, about fifty kilometers from the capital, Islamabad.

For years, Afridi was denied the right to communicate with his lawyer. The decision on his appeal against the conviction issued against him was postponed several times.

The family of the Pakistani doctor also complained of harassment, including the refusal to renew his identity cards, his wife and their two sons, according to lawyer Nadim in 2017.

During the previous US presidential campaign, Donald Trump announced that he would compel Islamabad to release Afridi. But he later adopted a more concealed position on the issue, parallel to Pakistan’s efforts to persuade the Afghan Taliban movement to negotiate with Washington.

And on Saturday, in Doha, an agreement was signed between the United States and the Taliban stipulating the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees provided by the rebels.

The Afridi case had a negative impact on humanitarian aid to Pakistan after thirty foreign NGOs were forced to leave the country in 2018 after the authorities denounced their “political activities” in the country.

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