British-Pakistani man allowed to go free but remains on Exit Control List, barring any international travel
The Sindh High Court on Thursday ordered the provincial government to immediately release British-Pakistani Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man convicted of masterminding the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, as well as three conspirators.
A two-member bench, led by Justice K.K. Agha, observed that the Sindh government’s ongoing detention of the four men—initially under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance and then under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997—was “illegal.” In today’s hearing, he directed all security agencies to abstain from holding the four accused “under any sort of detention,” and declared all notifications of the Sindh government related to their detention “null and void.”
The four petitioners—Omar Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil—had moved the court against their detention after their conviction was set aside in April. During proceedings, the court ruled that the provincial authorities had been unable to produce justifiable reasons for their continuous detention. However, the court has directed for the four men’s names to be placed on the Exit Control List, barring them from leaving the country. They have also been directed to appear before court whenever summoned.
In April, the court had set aside Sheikh’s death sentence over terrorism and murder, downgrading it to the lesser crime of kidnapping. Kidnapping carries a maximum imprisonment of seven years, allowing Sheikh to be freed as he has been imprisoned for 18 years. His three accomplices, who were sentenced to life in prison, had their convictions completely overturned.
Both the Sindh government and the Pearl family have separately appealed against the April ruling before the Supreme Court; that case is set to resume hearings next year.
Pearl, 38, was working in Pakistan for The Wall Street Journal in 2002 when he was abducted from Karachi while researching a story on religious extremism. His assassination sparked outrage after a graphic video of his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. Consulate a month after his abduction. Sheikh, the primary suspect, was arrested later that year and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court.