LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) – A Pakistan court declined to rule Monday on the diplomatic immunity of a CIA contractor held on murder charges, throwing the decision to a lower court that has said the trial should proceed.
Islamabad’s foreign ministry had been expected to clarify the diplomatic status of American Raymond Davis who has been remanded in jail since shooting dead two Pakistani men in a busy Lahore street in January.
Davis claims he acted in self-defence and US authorities have pressed for his release on grounds of diplomatic immunity, in a case that has fractured fragile diplomatic ties between the two nations.
The government refused to back the diplomatic claim Monday, leading the high court to dismiss the case and bounce it to a lower criminal court trying Davis for murder.
“The matter about immunity will be decided at the trial court,” Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry of the High Court in Lahore said in his order.
“The petitions related to immunity are disposed of because today the Foreign Office has not clearly told us whether there is immunity in this case or not,” said Chaudhry.
Deputy attorney general Naveed Inayat Malik, speaking for the government outside the court, said only that Davis arrived on an “official business” visa.
“Raymond Davis came to Pakistan on an official business visa… no attempt has been made to alter the official record…. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not interfering in any way in investigations,” Malik said.
The long-awaited decision will now move to the lower court trying Davis on double murder accusations, which is due to meet again on Wednesday to frame the charges.
The criminal court on March 3 ruled that the trial would go ahead after rejecting the immunity claim saying that no legitimate documents had been provided to prove it, according to the lawyer of the families of the dead men.
But the full implications of Monday’s high court decision for the US immunity claim were unclear, and a US embassy spokesman in Islamabad said officials were studying the court’s written judgement for clarification.
Revelations that Davis was a CIA contractor have heaped pressure on Pakistan’s embattled government and further ramped up burning public mistrust of Washington, damaging fragile relations between the two wary allies.
Washington has expressed fears for Davis’ safety in custody, and has said it holds the Pakistani government responsible for his well-being.
A third Pakistani was struck down and killed by a US diplomatic vehicle that came to Davis’ assistance in the January incident.
US officials denied Pakistan access to the vehicle, and the occupants are widely believed to have left the country.
Police have said they recovered a Glock pistol, four loaded magazines, a GPS navigation system and a small telescope from Davis’ car after the January 27 shooting.
The United States postponed a round of high-level talks with Afghanistan and Pakistan following failed attempts to get Davis out, and US lawmakers threatened to cut payments to Pakistan unless he is freed.