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SC stays release of Daniel Pearl murder accused for a week

The Supreme Court (SC) restrained concerned Sindh authorities on Monday from releasing Daniel Pearl murder accused for one week.

The Sindh High Court (SHC), on April 2, had commuted the death sentence of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – convicted for kidnapping and murdering Pearl in 2002 – to seven years, and acquitted three others who were serving life terms in the case – almost two decades after they were found guilty and jailed.

The detention period of the accused will end on September 30.

The three-member judge bench of the apex court led by Justice Mushir Alam while granting Sindh government and Pearl’s parents' petitions leave to appeal against the SHC judgment issued notices to all the respondents in acquittal pleas.

During the proceedings, the counsel for Pearl's parents, Faisal Siddiqui, argued that accused Omar Sheikh wrote a letter to the SHC Registrar, but the high court ignored his confession in the letter, he said.

"All the parties, in this case, have filed an appeal against the decision of the high court,” Siddiqui pleaded. “We want the trial court's decision to be reinstated. Evidence suggests the abduction was for ransom. The court's query regarding the element of conspiracy is correct,” the counsel stated.

He said that the confessional statements of the two accused prove the murder to be a conspiracy. The statements are self-explanatory, he added.

Earlier, speaking to Sindh government's counsel, Farooq H Naek, member of the apex court bench Justice Qazi Amin asked whether he would ask for the sentences to be suspended if the court submits the appeals for a preliminary hearing.

“I will request for the Sindh High Court's decision to be suspended,” Naek replied.

Justice Amin suggested putting Sheikh’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) as well as Schedule-B, that would bind him to appear before the court.

Allowing the appeals challenging the SHC's decision for a preliminary hearing, the court adjourned the hearing for a week.

In August, the SHC had dismissed a petition challenging the extended detention of the men accused of kidnapping and murdering the Wall Street Journal journalist, terming it inadmissible.

The petition, filed in the SHC, sought to declare the notification issued on April 2 on the second extension of the detention of the men acquitted in the 2002 kidnapping and murder null and void.

The accused have been detained under Section 11 EEEE (preventive detention for inquiry) of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The first notification was issued the day the men were acquitted and the second one three months after they completed their detention period.

Pearl’s murder

Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching links between militants in Pakistan and Richard C Reid – also known as the ‘shoe bomber’ for trying to detonate a shoe bomb while on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001.

Pearl’s wife Mariane Pearl, a US national who was living in Karachi’s Zamzama area, wrote a letter to the Artillery Maidan police on February 2, 2002, stating that her husband disappeared on January 23, 2002.

She said she received an email from the abductors, saying that he has been abducted in retaliation for the imprisonment of Pakistani men by the US government in Cuba and other complaints.

A graphic video showing Pearl’s decapitation was delivered to the US consulate in Karachi nearly a month after he was kidnapped.

After this, a case was filed against the suspects and 23 witnesses were produced in the case by the prosecution. Sheikh was arrested in February 2002.

An investigation, led by Pearl’s friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani and a Georgetown University professor, claimed that the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, not Omar Sheikh.

Mohammed — better known as KSM — was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is being held at Guantanamo Bay.

On April 2, 2020, the SHC heard their appeals against the sentence after 18 years and acquitted Sheikh, Saqib and Naseem. It commuted Sheikh’s death sentence to seven years and fined him Rs2 million.

Sheikh has already spent 18 years in prison on death row and his seven-year sentence for kidnapping was counted as time served.

Pearl’s parents and the Sindh government, however, filed appeals against the Sindh High Court’s order. On June 29, the Supreme Court dismissed the Sindh’s government appeal, asking for a stay order in the SHC verdict in the Daniel Pearl murder case.

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