ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: The Supreme Court (SC) Thursday acquitted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the main accused in the 2002 beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl case, and directed the authorities concerned to release him forthwith if not required in any other case.
A three-member SC bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam, and comprising Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Yahya Afridi, heard the criminal petition, filed by the Sindh government as well as parents of Daniel pearl for leave to appeal under Article 185(3) of the Constitution against the impugned judgment, passed by the Sindh High Court (SHC) on April, 2.
“An appeal of the Sindh government and the criminal petition of Daniel Pearl’s parents are dismissed and the appeal of respondent, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, is accepted and respondents be released forthwith if not required in any other case,” the court announced in its short order.
One member of the bench opposed the decision. According to Mahmood A Sheikh, counsel for Ahmed Omar, his client had also filed an appeal against the SHC order, where he had been held guilty of abduction of Daniel Pearl and awarded seven-year sentence.
The court accepted his appeal and held that he had no role whatsoever in the abduction of Daniel Pearl and all charges levelled against him were false and fabricated, and there was no evidence in this regard,” Mahmood A Sheikh told The News outside the Supreme Court.
The counsel said that the court had given his client a clean chit and ordered that he be released forthwith unless he was required in any other case.
He said that the Sindh government had filed three appeals against the acquittal of three accused other than Ahmed Omar, which the court dismissed.
“The clean acquittal of the accused means that the court has upheld the verdict of the Sindh High Court,” Mahmood Sheikh said.
He said that 19 years of the best part of their lives (the accused persons) had been wasted in prison and today the court came to the conclusion that they should have not been in the prison even for a single day.
“We expect that the Sindh government will live by its constitutional and legal commitment to obey the orders of the highest court of the land and will released the accused as directed by the court forthwith,” Mahmood A Sheikh said.
Soon after the court verdict, the reaction of parents of Daniel Pearl appeared in the media against the verdict.
A statement, released by the Pearl family through their lawyer, reportedly said that today’s decision was a complete travesty of justice and the release of the killers put in danger journalists everywhere, and the people of Pakistan.
On Thursday, during the course of proceedings, the court expressed dissatisfaction over the reply of the Sindh government on a CMA, filed by lawyer for Daniel Pearl.
Faisal Siddiqui, the lawyer for Daniel Pearl family, had filed an application in the court the other day with a request that certain news items should be brought on record of the court.
The documents mainly comprise of newspapers clippings and a news report in a daily in 2008, titled “Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India”. According to the news report, Ahmed Omar Sheikh had made hoax calls to then president Asif Ali Zardari and Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kyani in a bid to heighten tensions after the terrorist attack on Mumbai.
“Give us solid evidence that hoax calls were made by the accused from jail,” the court asked Prosecutor General Sindh Fiaz Shah”.
The prosecutor general, however, told the court that the intelligence agencies were collecting evidence in that regard and sought some time for filing the report.
Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, a member of the bench, however asked the prosecutor general that for the last 12 years they have not collected the evidence yet.
On April 2, a two-member bench of the high court, headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha, had overturned the death sentence for British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted 18 years ago by an anti-terrorism court in the kidnapping and beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The accused had filed an appeal in the high court against their conviction by the trial court after finding them guilty of abducting and killing Pearl.
The court had also overturned the conviction of three other men — Fahad Naseem, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil — in the case. The court had held that three of the four accused were ‘not guilty’ while the prime accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s death sentence had been overturned into a seven-year jail term.
Daniel Pearl was doing research on religious extremism when he was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002. The next month, a video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate, followed by the arrest of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, a Pakistani British, who was later sentenced to death by a trial court.
The Sindh government, however, through Prosecutor General Fiaz Shah, had challenged the SHC verdict in Supreme Court on April 22, contending that the High Court had erred in dealing with the legal question of burden of proof as the prosecution had safely discharged the burden to prove the guilt of the accused/ respondents by producing cogent and sufficient evidence.
News Desk adds: The Sindh government, meanwhile, announced it will file a review petition against the decision.
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan said that the federal government is in contact with the Sindh government over the matter.
He acknowledged that a review petition will be filed, asking the Supreme Court to rescind the release orders of Sheikh and his associates.
“The federal government will provide the provincial government with every possible legal assistance in the matter,” the spokesperson added.
It is not clear how long it will take for the petition to be filed.
Meanwhile, the United States says its “outraged” after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of Omar Sheikh and others, who had been under trial for the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
“The US is outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the acquittal of those responsible for Wall Street Journal’s reporter Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and brutal murder, which shocked the world’s conscience in 2002,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said.
In a strong-worded statement the White House said that the decision to exonerate and release Sheikh and the other suspects is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere including in Pakistan. The White House press secretary further said that the US recognises past Pakistani actions to try to hold Daniel Pearl’s murderers accountable, and also noted that Umar Sheikh remains in detention in Pakistan under national security authorities.
“But we call on the Pakistani government to expeditiously review its legal options including allowing the US to prosecute [Omar] Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist and we are committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists anywehre accountable for their heinous crimes,” the Psaki said.