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Supreme Court of Pakistan Orders Release of Omar Sheikh

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of Omar Sheikh. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Primary accused in killing of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl had a day earlier admitted to ‘minor’ role in the brutal 2002 assassination

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday dismissed an appeal filed by the Sindh government against a Sindh High Court decision to overturn the murder conviction of Omar Sheikh, ordering his immediate release.

The short verdict issued by a three-member bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam was opposed by one member. It came just a day after Sheikh admitted—for the first time—that he had played a “minor” role in the 2002 assassination of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. On Wednesday, Sheikh’s lawyers confirmed that their client had written a letter in 2019 in which he had admitted “limited involvement” in the killing of Pearl. The three-page letter was submitted to the Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago but had not been verified until this week. Nowhere in it does the British-born Sheikh elaborate exactly what constituted his allegedly “minor” role in Pearl’s beheading.

In addition to dismissing the Sindh government’s appeal, the apex court also dismissed an appeal against Sheikh’s acquittal by Pearl’s family. “The court has come out to say that there is no offense that he has committed in this case,” Mahmood Sheikh, who represented Sheikh, claimed to news agency AFP.

Pearl, 38, was doing research on religious extremism in Karachi when he was abducted in January 2002. A month later, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. consulate, with Sheikh and his accomplices arrested a short time later and sentenced to death by a trial court. Sheikh has been on death row since his conviction.

In April 2020, the Sindh High Court overturned Sheikh’s conviction, and also acquitted three other men—Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib—who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in the killing. The decision was appealed in the Supreme Court by both the Sindh government, as well as the parents of Pearl.

During Thursday’s hearing, the Sindh advocate general told the top court that Sheikh had links to banned outfits, adding that the information had been provided to the court. “There is evidence but not enough to prove it in court,” he said, prompting Justice Umar Ata Bandial to claim that this evidence had not been brought forward at any earlier stage of the trial and could not be admitted.

Justice Muneeb Akhtar, meanwhile, had said the government had not declared the accused an “enemy agent,” to which the Sindh advocate general had responded that any person who wages war against the country is called an enemy of the state.

In a statement, the Pearl family expressed “shock” at the majority decision of the Supreme Court to acquit and release Sheikh and the other accused in the kidnapping and murder of the U.S. journalist. “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. We urge the U.S. government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice,” said parents Ruth and Judea Pearl. “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.”

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