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Newspaper editor released on parole after nine years in prison on trumped-up charges

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF welcomes the release of Rehmat Shah Afridi, the editor of "The Frontier Post" and "Maidan" national dailies, after nine years in prison on trumped-up drug charges. He was freed on parole on 24 May 2008 on the orders of Punjab's interior ministry.

"Afridi's release is excellent news for his family and friends and is a first step towards redressing a case that lacked transparency and led to his being given two death sentences," RSF said. "The many irregularities that marked the judicial investigation should have induced the courts to overturn his conviction and release him a long time ago."

RSF added: "This decision by the Punjabi authorities is an encouraging sign. Afridi's release was one of the requests we made in an open letter to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on 16 April. He should now have the possibility of a retrial so that he can establish his innocence."

The Punjabi interior ministry ordered Afridi's release on the grounds of good conduct in prison. He was held for the entire period in the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where he never received the medical treatment that his poor health required.

"I was arrested after my newspaper published a report stating that the then-director general of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), Zafar Abbas, and some army officers were involved in drug smuggling," Afridi told journalists upon his release. "I am not ashamed of my imprisonment as all the charges brought against me are false and I would never accept this lie."

One of Afridi's sons, Jalil Afridi, told RSF that his father will now file an appeal to prove his innocence. An appeal is already pending before the Supreme Court against a fine of 18,500 euros that Afridi is supposed to pay on both charges.

During an interview at his home, Afridi thanked RSF for its support during his trial and his years in detention and said he would continue to support press freedom.

Arrested by the ANF on 2 April 1999 and charged with possession and trafficking in hashish, Afridi was sentenced on 27 June 2001 to death by hanging on both charges. Afridi always insisted on his innocence, and his family and RSF were able to show that his arrest was an act of revenge for articles revealing the involvement of the ANF and political and military officials in corruption and abuse of authority.

Accepting that trafficking in hashish is not a capital crime, the Lahore high court commuted Afridi's death sentences to life imprisonment on 3 June 2004. It was the first time in Pakistan's judicial history that someone was given the death penalty on this charge.

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