An American CIA employee accused of murdering two Pakistanis has refused to sign a charge sheet in court after claiming diplomatic immunity.
The detention in Pakistan of Raymond Allen Davis has severely frayed ties between the United States and Pakistan, whose counter-terrorism alliance is considered a crucial part of ending the war in Afghanistan.
Washington insists Davis is immune from prosecution because he is listed as a US Embassy staff member. The US claims Davis shot two Pakistanis in self-defence when they tried to rob him in late January in the eastern city of Lahore.
Pakistani officials, wary of a backlash in a population rife with anti-American sentiment, have declined to confirm whether Davis has diplomatic immunity, saying the matter is up to the courts.
During Friday's hearing, which was held in a Lahore jail and closed to the public, prosecutors tried to present the handcuffed Mr Davis with a charge sheet. The judge also asked whether Davis had engaged a defence attorney, according to Asad Manzoor Butt, a lawyer for a Pakistani bystander who was killed when struck by an American car rushing to assist Davis after the shootings.
But Davis refused to sign the charge sheet and said he did not want to participate in the case because he has immunity from prosecution under international agreements covering diplomats, said Mr Butt, who attended the hearing.
The question of whether Davis has immunity is also being considered by the Lahore High Court. Prosecutor Abdus Samad said Davis would be formally charged on March 3 at the next hearing.
The US Embassy declined to immediately comment, though a spokeswoman confirmed that representatives of the US consulate in Lahore were present at the hearing. Prosecutors could not immediately be reached after the hearing.
Davis is a 36-year-old Virginia native. US officials speaking on condition of anonymity have acknowledged that he did security work as a contractor for the CIA, but was apparently in Pakistan under a diplomatic cover.
American officials insist his exact job has no bearing on whether he qualifies for diplomatic immunity based on their readings of international agreements. They say they notified the Pakistani government of his official position as an "administrative and technical staff" member of the embassy more than a year ago.