Tension between Zardari, Shahbaz mounts over jailed chief editor -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Tension between Zardari, Shahbaz mounts over jailed chief editor

ISLAMABAD: PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari is angry with PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, not because of the new Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer but over the continued suffering of his old friend Rehmat Shah Afridi, the Chief Editor of The Frontier Post.

Afridi is behind the bars for the last nine years in a drug smuggling case. Asif Ali Zardari has requested Shahbaz Sharif many times to order the release of Rehmat Shah Afridi on parole but the PML-N president has repeatedly declined the request.

“I have called Shahbaz Sharif Sahib at least 10 times in the last couple of days and requested him to forget his old differences with Rehmat Shah Afridi. I asked for the release of my friend on parole, which is not difficult for the Punjab government but Shahbaz Sharif is making excuses,” Zardari told The News.

Asif Ali Zardari bitterly asked: “Where are the champions of the press freedom today? Rehmat Shah Afridi was arrested and booked in a fake drug smuggling case on political grounds. He spent nine years in jail just for writing the truth and now he is seriously ill but some people still want to take their revenge.”

The lawyers of Rehmat Shah Afridi have always blamed Nawaz Sharif for concocting a fake drug case against their client because Afridi had helped Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1989 when she was facing a no-confidence move in the National Assembly. Afridi arranged three Fata votes for Benazir Bhutto. At one stage, some government functionaries pressurised Afridi to become an approver against Zardari but he refused.

Afridi had submitted documents in the courts including letters sent by Saifur Rehman, the former in-charge of the Ehtesab Bureau, to the UK and the US governments alleging that Rehmat Shah Afridi, Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari were drugs smugglers.

These letters proved AfridiÂ’s contention that he was being victimised because he had refused to incriminate Benazir and Zardari in false cases of drugs smuggling. Saifur Rehman also wrote similar letters to the ANF against Asif Ali Zardari in 1999. Brigadier Ejaz Shah was the ANF chief in the Punjab at that time. He ignored the letter of Saifur Rehman against Zardari.

On the other hand, the PML-N has totally denied any old political rivalry with Rehmat Shah Afridi. Shahbaz Sharif has already briefed Zardari on phone on, what he claims, legal problems. He informed Zardari that Afridi was arrested in 1999 by the officers of the Pakistan Army working with the ANF and he was not arrested by the political government.

Shahbaz Sharif further explained that Afridi was convicted in 2001 when Pervez Musharraf was in power. He promised Zardari that he will try his best to help the release of Afridi on parole and has directed secretary law Punjab to examine the case and inform Federal Law Minister Farooq Naek immediately.

Secretary law Punjab informed Farooq Naek two days ago that Afridi was awarded 25 years imprisonment. According to the law, he must complete at least 10 years and then he could be eligible for parole.

He suggested to Farooq Naek that Rehmat Shah Afridi should be transferred to Sindh and the Sindh government could release him on bail any time. Farooq Naek confirmed to The News that the Punjab government had declined the request to release Afridi on parole. He said that the case against Afridi was fake and excuses presented by the Punjab government were weak. ìI will come up with some kind of solution in a day or two.î

Naek said that despite all legal lacunas and procedural flaws, the trial court came heavy upon the ‘Frontier Post’ chief editor and sentenced Rehmat Shah Afridi with two death penalties, one for carrying 20 kg of drugs in his car and the other for hiding drugs in his truck in Faisalabad.

He is the first person in Pakistan who was awarded death sentence for possession of 20 kilograms of charas. Rehmat Shah Afridi’s case was the first in the legal history of Pakistan in which audio and videotapes were accepted as evidence. The tapes, recorded by the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF), showed Afridi apparently making deals to sell drugs to customers.

The ANF sources claimed that the video proved that Afridi was meeting undercover agents, who were trying to make a deal with him to buy drugs. In the video, Afridi was seen offering a pack of cigarettes to another person who was an undercover agent of the ANF.

His name was Major Abdul Rab but this incident was not mentioned in the FIR registered against Afridi. The ANF sources said Afridi was actually showing a sample of hashish to an undercover agent.

According to Farooq Naek, Rehmat Shah Afridi has suffered too much and he is also sick. Naek said: “We will provide relief to Rehmat Shah Afridi at any cost and it’s a challenge for me.” Jalil Afridi, the son of Rehmat Shah Afridi, said: “My father is suffering from typhoid, his health is very bad and we are asking for his release on health and humanitarian grounds.”

The Media Advisor of Punjab Government Pervez Rashid informed The News: “We have shifted Rehmat Shah Afridi to the Services Hospital. We have nothing personal against him. We are only facing some legal problems otherwise our sympathies are with Afridi.” It was also learnt that Asif Ali Zardari would take up the case of Rehmat Shah Afridi in his expected meeting with Nawaz Sharif soon.
Source: The News
Date:5/19/2008