ISLAMABAD: Accepting the petition of parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday barred the Sindh government from releasing the prime suspect in the case.
Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl requested the top court in May to reverse the Sindh High Court (SHC) verdict which overturned the death sentence of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, one of the four suspects, in the case, declaring that the prosecution had failed to prove the case against them.
The other three suspects are Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, and Sheikh Adil. They were awarded life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in 2002.
However, despite the court ruling in this regard, the Sindh government issued an order to detain the suspects till September 30 (Wednesday) citing “public safety” concerns.
During the hearing, Sindh government counsel Farooq Naek recalled that taxi driver Nasir Abbas had identified the accused in front of a magistrate during an identity parade. “Sheikh was arrested on January 13, 2002, and on April 22, 2002 charges were framed against him,” he said.
He added that there were a total of 23 witnesses in the case. Amir Afzal, the receptionist at Akbar International Hotel where Sheikh and Pearl met, also identified the accused during an identity parade, he said.
“There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes,” Naek said when the court asked where the conspiracy had taken place. When Sheikh met the journalist, he used the name Bashir, Naek said, adding that he gave a fake name because his intentions were not pure.
“It is possible that the decision to kill was taken a few moments before it actually occurred,” remarked Justice Yahya Afridi. Naek replied that the initial plan was to collect ransom, not assassinate the journalist.
The court also questioned how charges against Sheikh were proven when the body was never found and an autopsy was never conducted.
“Kidnapping charges were proven. The SHC should have ordered a retrial instead of overturning the death sentence,” the Sindh government’s lawyer replied.
When asked by the court who identified the accused, Naek reiterated that the taxi driver had identified him during an identity parade.
“The taxi driver’s statement is the basis for the government’s case,” remarked Justice Qazi Amin. “His body was never found so how did the taxi driver identify Pearl,” asked the judge.
“He identified him after looking at a picture,” the lawyer replied.
The accused were acquitted on charges of murder and kidnapping for ransom, observed Justice Qazi Amin. “It looks like the high court wrapped up the matter after giving punishment only for the crime of kidnapping,” he remarked.
Barring authorities from releasing Saeed and others, and issuing notices to the parties concerned, the court adjourned the hearing until Wednesday.
The family’s appeal was adjourned earlier this month amid cries of outrage from Pearl’s family and the US government to the SHC decision.
Pearl, 38, was kidnapped and killed while investigating the link between Al-Qaeda militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “shoe bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes. He disappeared on January 23, 2002, and a videotape received by US diplomats in February 2002 confirmed his death.
A handwritten letter by Sheikh acknowledged his involvement in the killing in Karachi, Faisal Siddiqi, the counsel for Pearl’s family, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The letter by Sheikh was entered into evidence in late 2019, Siddiqi said. However, it was not among the evidence heard by the high court that in April acquitted Sheikh on a number of charges, including the most serious of the kidnapping for ransom that lead to Pearl’s slaying.
In the letter dated July 19, 2019, Sheikh said his involvement in Pearl’s death was “a relatively minor one.” Siddiqi said Sheikh implicates himself in Pearl’s murder by his admission.
In the original trial in 2002, emails between Sheikh and Pearl were entered into evidence in which Sheikh gained Pearl’s confidence, sharing their experiences as both waited for the birth of their first child. Pearl’s wife Marianne Pearl gave birth to a son, Adam, in May 2002.
Evidence entered into court accused Sheikh of luring Pearl to his death, giving the American journalist a false sense of security as he promised to introduce him to a cleric with militant links.
The police sought to locate Pearl for weeks until the video received by US diplomats showed his beheading.