PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A Pakistani appeals court on Thursday overturned the 33-year jail sentence of Shakil Afridi, a doctor widely credited with helping the CIA track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011.
Afridi remains in the central jail in Peshawar, where the appeal was heard, while awaiting a new trial.
U.S. officials consider Afridi a hero for his assistance, and his arrest and harsh sentence for allegedly helping militants further strained ties between Washington and Islamabad already damaged by the bin Laden raid.
Afridi ran a fake vaccination campaign, collecting DNA samples that reportedly helped the U.S. intelligence agency conclude that bin Laden was in the Abbottabad compound.
Pakistani officials originally said Afridi would face treason charges. But in May 2012, he was charged by a court in Pakistan’s semiautonomous Khyber tribal area with “conspiring against the state” by giving money and medical help to a banned militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam.
Afridi has denied the charges, and his lawyers have argued that he was actually kidnapped by the group and forced to pay a ransom.
The earlier court’s decision was set aside Thursday when Judge Sahibzada Mohammad Anees ruled that the de facto judge in the case exceeded his authority.