SHC orders release of accused in Daniel Pearl killing

Declares detention of four accused illegal, orders placing names on ECL


Nasir Butt December 24, 2020
KARACHI:

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday set aside the detention of four men – including Omer Saeed Sheikh – who were convicted by an anti-terrorism court in 2002 for the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Later three of them were acquitted, while the one got his sentence commuted.

Declaring the detention of the accused illegal, the court ordered immediate release of Omer Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil. The court further ordered that their names be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Expressing displeasure over the Sindh government’s decision, Justice Amjad Ali Sahito observed that the provincial administration cannot keep all suspects in detention. Justice KK Agha added that the government could not detain people on the basis of suspicion.

The bench also expressed displeasure over flaws in the detention notification. Justice Sehto asked the advocate general (AG) where was it written in the notification that Omar Sheikh was a terrorist? Rules must be followed if someone has to be kept behind bars, he added.

On April 2, 2020, the SHC heard their appeals against their sentences and acquitted Sheikh, Saqib and Naseem after a period of 18 years. The court also commuted Sheikh’s death sentence to seven years along with a fine of Rs2 million. His incarceration for 18 years was counted as the time served.

However, the Sindh government invoked the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) to prevent the men from walking free. Later, the four were detained on September 28 under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

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

The SHC said in its ruling that the detention period of the men ends on December 27, 2020. The court rejected the Sindh AG's request for adjournment of the hearing. It said the AG had enough time to file a petition on the matter.

No application was filed within despite the three-day time, the judgement said. The court restrained the law enforcement agencies, both federal as well as provincial, from detaining the petitioners. It added that the petitioners would appear at every hearing of the appeals in the Supreme Court.

Pearl’s murder

Daniel Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002. Pearl’s wife Marianne Pearl, a US national who was living in Karachi, wrote a letter to the Artillery Maidan police on February 2, 2002, stating that her husband disappeared on January 23, 2002.

Later, 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.

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