Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) expressed relief today at the commuting of the double death penalty imposed on Rehmat Shah Afridi, chief editor of the Peshawar dailies The Frontier Post and Maidan.
Two judges of the Lahore High Court replaced them on 3 June with life imprisonment as Afridi continued to protest his innocence of the original hashish smuggling accusation against him by the ANF national anti-drug squad.
The press freedom organisation regretted that he had not been acquitted in view of the many irregularities during his arrest and trial. It called for an independent enquiry into the procedural aspects of the case, which has allowed the government to keep a newspaper editor in prison for the past five years.
Afridi was arrested on 2 April 1999 and accused of drug possession and smuggling after frequently criticising the ANF and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The judges struck down the sentences of death by hanging imposed in June 2001 on grounds that hashish smuggling was not punishable by such a sentence, the first time in Pakistan’s history that it had been imposed for this offence.
During the High Court hearing, the prosecution presented a video showing a person resembling Afridi with ANF members disguised as drug smugglers. The Afridi person is heard to refuse an invitation to get involved in smuggling heroin. The court had criticised the police on 20 May for destroying material evidence used to convict him.
The latest developments support the contention of Afridi’s family and Reporters Without Borders that the journalist was set up by the ANF (which is funded by the US government) in retaliation for his exposure of its corruption and abuses of power. His son Jalil has said he will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.