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Pakistan High Court Orders Release of Prime Suspect in Killing of US Journalist Daniel Pearl
Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the prime suspect in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, arrives March 29, 2002 at the provincial high court in Karachi, Pakistan. (Getty Images)

Pakistan High Court Orders Release of Prime Suspect in Killing of US Journalist Daniel Pearl

Islamist terrorist was convicted and later acquitted of the brutal 2002 beheading

[Islamabad] The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the prime suspect in the brutal murder of Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl.

The three-justice court also dismissed an appeal by the Sindh Provincial government against the High Court order for the immediate release of Sheikh and his alleged co-conspirators.

“Ahmed Omar Sheikh, Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil shall be released from jail forthwith if not required to be detained in connection with any other case,” the Supreme Court said. “Ahmed Omar Sheikh is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of the doubt to him.”

Faisal Siddiqi, the Pearl family’s lawyer, told The Media Line that “the decision is split 2-1. One among the judges decided in Pearl’s favor.”

Earlier, the advocate general of Sindh Province had provided sensitive information to the top court in a sealed envelope.

“Omar Sheikh has links to banned outfits, and there is evidence but it cannot be proved in a court of law,” the advocate general stated.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial said, “The information shared with the court was never presented at any forum before. How can we review material which was never brought on record? If the authorities had information about the accused, why did they not try him for anti-state activities?”

The court added that the government never declared Sheikh an enemy agent. “No one can deny the war against terror, but when this battle will end no one knows. Maybe it will continue for generations to come,” the judges said.

The Supreme Court is expected to release a detailed decision in the coming days.

An official at Karachi Central Prison told The Media Line, however, that prison authorities had not received any orders to release the four men.

“The Pearl family is in complete shock by the majority decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to acquit and release Ahmed Omar Sheikh and the other accused persons who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl,” the Pearl family said in a statement released by Asra Nomani, co-director of the Pearl Project, a faculty-student, investigative-reporting project into the kidnapping and murder of her former colleague.

Daniel’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, further said that “today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers put in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan.

“We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice. We also hope that the Pakistani authorities will take all necessary steps to rectify this travesty of justice. No amount of injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl,” they continued.

Nomani told The Media Line, “In 2002, Daniel Pearl, a noble journalist, was brutally slaughtered in Pakistan, his blood absorbed into its soil.

“Today, 19 years later in 2021, justice was slain. The US government must immediately move to extradite Omar Sheikh. He is a terrorist and a criminal. We must never surrender justice for Danny,” she said.

Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin, was sentenced to death for the killing in 2002, but a Pakistani court overturned his conviction in April 2020.

In December 2020, the Sind High Court ordered the release of Sheikh and his three alleged co-conspirators.

The court ruled that “the detention orders for the prime accused, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and three co-conspirators, Fahad Nasim, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib, are null and void.”

Responding to the provincial court’s decision, Jeffrey A. Rosen, acting US attorney general, said in a statement on December 30, 2020, that “the United States stands ready to take custody” of Sheikh.

“The US will put Sheikh on trial if an appeal to reinstate his murder conviction in a top Pakistani provincial court fails,” Rosen said.

The Sindh government appealed the provincial court’s decision to the Supreme Court, which on Thursday rejected it.

Pauline Adès-Mével, the Paris-based editor-in-chief of the freedom of information advocacy group Reporters without Borders, told The Media Line, “Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted the man accused of US journalist Daniel Pearl’s decapitation. Reporters Without border denounces such a shocking decision, which is nothing but a confirmation of the absolute level of impunity for crimes against journalists in Pakistan.”

Daniel Bastard, the head of Reporters without Borders’s Asia-Pacific Desk, told The Media Line, “Nineteen years after Daniel Pearl was abducted and beheaded, the impunity in this case is total.

“This acquittal will remain as a symbol of the absolute impunity surrounding crimes of violence against journalists in this country,” he said.

Iqbal Khattak, executive director of the Islamabad-based Freedom Network, Pakistan’s first media watchdog organization, told The Media Line: “We are disappointed to see justice is not done in the murder of Daniel Pearl. Someone must have orchestrated his murder.

“Why is no one being brought to justice when we all know that someone killed Daniel Pearl in Pakistan?” Khattak asked. “Pakistan has failed to do justice in the case of Daniel Pearl’s murder.”

Adnan Rehmat, a leading Islamabad-based journalists’ rights activist, told The Media Line, “It is astounding that Omar Sheikh, who had admitted to the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl and thus made possible his eventual gruesome beheading, could be ordered released.

“Sheikh has an established history of terrorism-related activities. He was serving a jail term in Srinagar [in Indian Kashmir] for terrorism when his name was among the list of persons released in exchange for the passengers of an Air India plane hijacked to Kandahar [in Afghanistan in 1999] while en route from Kathmandu [in Nepal to Delhi],” he noted.

“Sheikh deserved no leniency on account of his track record and would be a danger to society anywhere,” Rehmat said, adding that “justice should not only be done but seen to be done, and on this score, Pearl and his family have received no justice.”

No official response was forthcoming from the US or Pakistan by press time.

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