KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday exempted Sindh Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah from appearing in a contempt petition in connection with the detention of the four accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case despite a court order.
Last week, the high court served contempt notices to the provincial chief and home secretaries in a petition seeking to initiate contempt proceedings against the officials for blocking the release.
In April last, the SHC overturned the murder conviction of principal suspect Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh while acquitting Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil.
However, following the court verdict, the Sindh government placed them under 90-day detention under the Maintenance of Public Order. Subsequently, on July 1, a fresh notification under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was issued to extend their detention by three months, and later, in October, their confinement was extended for yet another 90 days.
In December, the high court set aside the provincial government’s detention orders and ordered it to immediately release the suspects.
However, after the government failed to comply with the court order, a contempt petition was filed against the chief secretary Mumtaz Shah, and officials of the provincial and jail authorities.
Today, the bench while granting exemption to Shah said the home secretary and other officials would have to appear before the court.
Sindh advocate general urged the court to adjourn the trial until the Supreme Court announces its verdict in an appeal against the SHC order to release suspects.
The court adjourned the hearing for two weeks.
Pearl, 38, the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted on January 23, 2002, in Karachi and beheaded the next month, reportedly by Al-Qaeda. Sheikh had been convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi in which he was kidnapped.
Prior to his kidnapping, the journalist had been investigating the link between reportedly Pakistan-based militants and Richard Reid, the notorious “Shoe Bomber” who attempted to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.
In July 2002, following the hearings, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Hyderabad had sentenced to death Sheikh and life term to other co-accused. However, all four convicts had moved the SHC in 2002 challenging their convictions.
In his autobiography, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, former president Pervaiz Musharraf had claimed that Sheikh, a British national and a student at the London School of Economics (reports suggest he did not graduate), was hired by MI6 to engage in “jihadi operations”, adding that “at some point, he probably became a rogue or a double agent”.