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Pakistan

April 9, 2020

Daniel Pearl murder case: British lawyer offers free services to Omar Sheikh

Pakistan

Thu, Apr 09, 2020

LONDON: One of Britain’s youngest-ever Queen’s Counsels (QC) has offered his services free of charge to British-born militant Omar Ahmed Sheikh and three others who were recently acquitted of the charges of allegedly kidnapping and murdering Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street journalist, in Karachi in 2002.

All four suspects have been kept in extended detention under maintenance of public order laws.

Ali Naseem Bajwa, QC, who made history when he became one of the youngest ever QC in 2011, told this reporter in an interview that the handling of British-Pakistani Omar Sheikh’s case and the treatment of three other men, Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil, raises serious concerns.

Bajwa has previously represented cricketer Salman Butt at Southwark Crown Court after he was charged with spot-fixing in 2010. He appeared on BBC’s Newsnight in 2015 and for the first time, had explained how some speeches of the MQM leader Altaf Hussain fell in the category of terrorism and hate speech. He has also represented clients in some of the biggest murder and terrorism cases in the UK.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and due process is simply not being observed in this case. As a British-Pakistani QC, I am willing to join the fight to restore the Sindh High Court’s decision. Therefore, I have offered my services, free of charge, to any of the four men who may wish to have my assistance in the legal battles that lie ahead," Bajwa said.

He said that the Pakistani justice system’s recent handling of the case of Omar Ahmed Sheikh showcases it at its very best and worst.

The lawyer said: “Putting aside that it took 18 years to bring about its resolution, the decision of the Sindh High Court on April 2, 2020 was a model of legal independence and good sense. The court allowed Sheikh’s appeal, and that of his three co-accused, for the infamous 2002 murder of the US journalist Daniel Pearl on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of his being a party to the murder, only a party to his kidnapping.

“Sheikh’s death sentence was quashed and replaced by one of 7 years’ imprisonment for the kidnapping offence; a term that he had long-since served. His release was expected to follow very shortly. The Pakistan courts had shown that justice can indeed be blind. Regrettably, the blindfold slipped within just 24 hours," he said, referring to the Sindh government's decision to keep the men in detention under a separate law.

Bajwa said he had no doubt that the decision of the provincial government to issue orders to keep Shaikh and his co-accused in custody for at least 90 days on the grounds of ‘public safety’ was taken under pressure from external agencies.

He explained: “That basis for their continued imprisonment is entirely fallacious unless one presumes that the four men are guilty of murder, which in law they no longer are. Of course, the state can and will appeal the Sindh High Court’s judgment to the Supreme Court. Inevitably, that process will be significantly delayed. Inevitably, Sheikh and the other three men will be in custody for all of that time.”

The lawyer said that the handling of this case and the treatment of these four men raise serious concerns.

He said that he would be willing to offer his services within Pakistan and at any international legal forum to get justice done.

He added: “This case is about much more than the fate of the four men. It confirms that there are significant systematic failures in Pakistan’s legal process, which must be challenged by international lawyers and human rights groups.”