Campaign to release doctor who helped US find Bin Laden
Hollywood-based activists launch Help Free Afridi initiative
Dr. Shakil Afridi, the physician turned CIA asset who was instrumental in determining the location and identity of Usama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is hailed as a hero in the eyes of American officials. But to the Pakistan's top brass, he remains a criminal traitor who is likely to spend many more years behind bars, with authorities standing firm against any U.S. diplomatic endeavors to have him released.
"Dr. Afridi is in detention for violating the laws of the country,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Fox News during a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday. "He was violating many laws in the country, and we have to uphold the laws."
The newly installed country leader, who took the helm just last month following the ouster of Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations, doubled down that Afridi's job was to be a "practitioner in a polio program" and any knowledge he may have learned regarding Usama bin Laden's whereabouts should have been turned over the Pakistani government.
Dr. Shakil Afridi has helped the U.S., but now his supporters say the U.S. must do more to help him.
"We certainly didn't have knowledge of Usama being there," Abbasi insisted.
He also denied speculation that Afridi was in poor health condition while languishing behind bars.
The 54-year-old played a crucial role leading up to the May 2, 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader, running a fake hepatitis B vaccination program to collect fake DNA samples used to authenticate bin Laden's presence in the Pakistan compound, despite repeated denials from the country's authorities that he was there.
Afridi was subsequently identified after the U.S. exposed details of the operation publicly, and he was initially sentenced to 33 years in prison for "colluding with terrorists." After a re-trial, he was then charged with a nefarious murder of a patient eight years earlier.
But despite repeated efforts by U.S. Congress — and more recently President Trump — to facilitate his release, including threats to cut millions in aid, Islamabad has yet to relent.
Pakistan's former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has cautioned that the U.S. president "should learn to treat sovereign states with respect."
The Afridi case "caused a national embarrassment to Pakistan. Pakistan and the U.S. were working together, and they should have shared with each other and maintained that trust level," Aizaz Chaudhry, Washington's Ambassador to Pakistan, told Fox News.
Usama bin Laden was found hiding out in Pakistan in 2011, according to the U.S. military. (AP Photo/Al-Jazeera via APTN)
Earlier this year, it was believed closed-door negotiations were in place for an imminent discharge of the famed doctor, but those appeared to have stalled.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has routinely called on the previous administration to withhold billions in aid to Pakistan until Afridi's release. Last year, the House of Representatives passed a defense budget that would make $450 million in assistance contingent on the nation doing more to stop terror and called on the country to free the jailed doctor. But so far, all efforts have proven unsuccessful.
"Our government for the last five years has permitted this to go on. The fact that they (Pakistan) have been able to collect any type of military or non-military aid is a travesty and is a comment on our weakness as Americans," Rohrabacher told Fox News back in February.
A spokesperson for the State Department told Fox News that no progress has been made on Afridi's release in recent times, but the department remains firm on comments made earlier this year.
"We believe Dr. Afridi has been unjustly imprisoned and have clearly communicated our position to Pakistan on Dr. Afridi's case, both in public and in private,” the State Department said in a statement to Voice of America in April. “We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels during discussions with Pakistan's leadership. Pakistan has assured us that Dr. Afridi is being treated humanely and is in good health."
Abbasi denied that terrorist "sanctuaries" exist in Pakistan, instead claiming that Afghans come into their territory to cause problems.
Chaudhry also claimed that relations between Pakistan and the United States are set to improve following a productive meeting between Abbasi and Vice President Mike Pence this week.
"There is complete agreement between the two sides that we need to work together," Chaudhry added.
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay