Primary accused in kidnap and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl to be shifted to government rest house within two days
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday ordered the government to immediately release Omar Sheikh, the primary accused in the kidnap and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, from prison and shift him to a government rest house within two days.
Resuming hearings into the Sindh government’s appeal against the release of Sheikh, a three-member bench said that the accused should be imprisoned in better jail facilities before he was shifted to a rest house. It said that the government should ensure security around the rest house to prevent the accused’s escape, adding that Sheikh would not be permitted access to mobile phones or the internet at the rest house.
The top court also directed the government to allow Sheikh to meet his family at the rest house, saying this should be permitted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It said that the government should pay for his family’s accommodation and transport. The accused should be allowed to spend Kashmir Day, Feb. 5, with his family, it added. Kashmir Solidarity Day is a public holiday in Pakistan.
During proceedings, the three-member bench rejected the government’s appeal to suspend a Sindh High Court verdict acquitting Sheikh. It said that the federal government could file an appeal against the provincial court’s decision if it had any objection to the ruling.
To concerns from the Sindh advocate general that Sheikh was a “criminal mastermind” and could escape if he were released from prison, Justice Umar Ata Bandial said that the government had two days to enact measures ensuring that he could not escape.
Claiming that the court was bound by law, Justice Muneeb Akhtar dismissed a plea from the advocate general to maintain Sheikh’s incarceration in light of terrorists continuing to target security forces. “There is no denying the sacrifices of the armed forces but we are bound by the Constitution,” said Justice Akhtar.
Adjourning the hearing, the bench said the case would resume after two weeks.
Last week, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Sindh High Court in acquitting Sheikh and three co-accused in the 2002 kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The ruling came a day after Sheikh—for the first time—admitted that he had played a “minor” role in the crime, though he did no clarify what this “minor” role entailed.
In announcing its verdict, the top court ordered Sheikh’s immediate release, prompting the Sindh government to announce it would appeal the decision. The federal government has also claimed that it would support the provincial government’s efforts to ensure Sheikh were not released.
The ruling had become a source of concern for ties between Pakistan and the U.S., where the new administration of President Joe Biden has expressed “outrage” to Sheikh’s release. Describing the verdict as “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki has said the Pakistani government should “review its legal options” and ensure justice for Pearl and his family.