Province extends by 90 days detention of four men after Sindh High Court acquits three, and overturns death penalty for primary suspect
The Sindh government on Friday invoked the Maintenance of Public Order law to extend by 90 days the detention of four men accused of murdering U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl after the Sindh High Court acquitted three or them and overturned the death penalty of prime suspect Omer Saeed Sheikh.
According to a notification issued by the Sindh Home Ministry, the release of Omer Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Mohammad Adil could jeopardize the law and order situation in the province and their continued detention was necessary to maintain the peace.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the timing of the verdict had surprised the government, adding that the order would be challenged at a higher forum.
On Thursday, the Sindh High Court’s decision in the 18-year-old case drew condemnations from across the globe. The U.S. State Department has termed it “an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere.”
Alice Wells, the top U.S. diplomat for South Asia, however, noted that prosecutors intended to appeal the decision. “Those responsible for Daniel’s heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice,” she posted on Twitter.
The Sindh High Court on Thursday overturned the murder conviction of British national Sheikh, the man found guilty of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Instead, the court found Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced him to seven years in prison. He has already served 18 years in prison on death row and the reduced sentence would now count as time served, said one of Sheikh’s lawyers, Khwaja Naveed.
He told the Associated Press that his client could go free immediately unless the government chooses to challenge the court decision.
The Sindh High Court also acquitted the other three accused, who had earlier been sentenced to life in prison. “Justice has been done to my clients,” Naveed told AP.
Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about religious extremists in the Sindh capital. A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. consulate nearly a month later. Omer Sheikh was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by an anti-terror court.
During proceedings, the appellants’ lawyers argued that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against their clients beyond any reasonable doubt. They claimed the prosecution witnesses were mostly policemen, whose testimonies could not be relied upon.
Deputy Prosecutor General Saleem Akhtar, meanwhile, had supported the trial court’s verdict and requested the court to dismiss the appeals.
In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University following an investigation into the journalist’s death claimed that it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and not Omer Sheikh, who had murdered Pearl.
Mohammad was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is currently being held in Guantanamo Bay.