By Mubasher Bokhari
LAHORE (Reuters) - A Pakistani court is likely to indict a CIA contractor next week for murdering two men, lawyers said on Tuesday, despite U.S. insistence he has diplomatic immunity, acted in self-defense and should be released.
The arrest of American contractor Raymond Davis, 36, who shot dead two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore on January27in what he said in was an act of self-defense, has put grave strains on relations between the United States and its important ally Pakistan.
"The lawyers of the victims pleaded that David be charged, but we contested it could not happen until we get complete documents on the case," Davis' lawyer, Zahid Hussain Bokhari, told Reuters.
"He is probably going to be charged with murder at the next hearing, which is on March 16."
Before the next murder hearing, Davis has a hearing at the Lahore High Court on March 14 which could determine if he has diplomatic immunity and should be released.
Asad Manzoor Butt, lawyer for the family of one of the victims, said Davis declined to sign police documents but that later Bokhari signed them on his behalf.
The case has inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and is testing the often-fraught ties between the allies.
Hard line religious parties, which have been campaigning vociferously to prevent any reform of the blasphemy law, have called for Davis to be hanged.
U.S. Officials said progress was being made to persuade Pakistan to free Davis but that Washington could take punitive diplomatic and financial action if the case was not resolved soon.
Pakistani government officials say it is for the country's courts to decide the fate of the CIA contractor.
The hearing is taking place behind closed doors in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore for security reasons. The proceedings are closed to journalists.
Davis, a former U.S. special forces officer, has been accused of double-murder and keeping illegal weapons. He faces possible execution.
Meanwhile, another American, identified as Aaron Mark DeHaven, arrested in the northwestern city of Peshawar for overstaying his visa, was released on 2 million rupees ($23,356.30) bail on Tuesday on the orders of a local court, jail officials said.
($1=85.25 Pakistani Rupee)
(Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Andrew Marshall)