A California congressman is orchestrating an effort to free a 23-year-old movie actor from a Pakistani prison, where he is serving a seven-year sentence for drug possession.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) met last week with officials from the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C., to demand the release of Erik Aude of Lancaster, who was arrested in the Islamabad airport in February 2002 with 3.6 kilos of opium in the false lining of a suitcase, said Bob Cochran, McKeon's chief of staff.
Supporters of Aude -- who had small parts in sitcoms and such teen comedies as "Dude, Where's My Car?"-- have long contended that he was duped by a man who had hired the actor to transport leather goods out of Pakistan.
Their argument was bolstered last month when the man in question -- convicted Glendale drug dealer Razmik Minasian -- declared in a sworn statement that he never told Aude about the drugs in the suitcase.
Some federal officials familiar with the case believe that Aude was aware of his involvement in the drug trade. But Minasian's statement was enough to convince McKeon of Aude's innocence, Cochran said.
McKeon, accompanied by Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), presented Minasian's statement to Pakistani officials Friday in hopes that it might speed Aude's release and return to the United States.
"We have testimony now of a convicted drug dealer that shows Erik was duped into this, and we're following through with it," Cochran said.
The effect of the statement on the actor's fate remains unclear. The Pakistani Embassy was closed Wednesday for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr when The Times called seeking comment.
At the meeting, Pakistani officials told McKeon that President Pervez Musharraf was unable to issue a pardon, but that Aude has a right to appeal his case under Pakistani law, Cochran said.
McKeon's office was working with the State Department to clarify Aude's legal rights in the country, Cochran said.
"We're going to continue to put pressure [on Pakistan]. They may not like the pressure, but the congressman was very clear that Erik's sentence cease, and that he should be let go now," he said.
The meeting was good news to Aude's mother, Sherry Aude, who said she recently sold her home to raise money for her son's legal bills and other expenses. In letters home, his mother said, Aude said he had been beaten by guards at the state prison in Rawalpindi and threatened by inmates who are Al Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers.
"This is definitely the first break that we've really had," Sherry Aude said. "I'm really starting to believe for the first time that I might see my son again."