Observer Report Islamabad
The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered authorities to release Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the principal accused in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, dismissing an appeal by the Sindh government against the Sindh High Court (SHC) order for his immediate release.
The apex court is also separately hearing appeals against the high court’s earlier acquittal of Sheikh, a decision which has not been announced as yet.
The short order was issued by a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam. One member of the bench opposed the decision.
“The court has come out to say that there is no offence that he has committed in this case,” Mahmood Sheikh, who represented Sheikh told media.
The attorney added that the court had ordered that three others, who had been sentenced to life in prison for their part in Pearl’s kidnapping and death, also be freed.
Meanwhile, the Pearl family in a statement released by their lawyer said, “Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan.”
Faisal Siddiqi, the Pearl family lawyer, said the only legal avenue following the court’s decision upholding Sheikh’s acquittal would be to ask for a review of the court decision.
However, he said the review would be conducted by the same court that upheld the appeal. “In practical terms there is no further legal avenues to pursue in Pakistan,” he said.
Earlier, the United States had said that it may seek to try Sheikh if efforts to keep him in prison failed. In a statement last month, the then-US acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that America “stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here” after the SHC overturned a government detention order that Sheikh should remain in custody.
On Wednesday, Sheikh told the SC he played a “minor” role in the killing.
A letter handwritten by Sheikh in 2019, in which he admits limited involvement in the killing of the Wall Street Journal reporter, was submitted to the Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago. It wasn’t until Wednesday that Sheikh’s lawyers confirmed their client wrote it.
Daniel Pearl, 38, was doing research on religious extremism in Karachi when he was abducted in January 2002. A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate a month later. Subsequently, Sheikh was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by a trial court.
During today’s hearing, the Sindh advocate general told the court that the prime accused had links to banned outfits. He said that the provincial government had handed over sensitive information to the court in a sealed envelope. “There is evidence but not enough to prove it in court,” he said.