Friday June 14, 2024

Daniel Pearl’s abduction, murder: SHC orders to release Omar Sheikh, others

By Jamal Khurshid & Wajid Ali Syed
December 25, 2020

KARACHI/WASHINGTON: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday struck down preventive detention of British nationality holder Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh and three others who were continuously detained for the last nine months under the anti-terrorism law despite their acquittal in the US journalist Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder charges by the appellate court.

The court ordered none of the detenue shall be placed under any preventive detention order by the federal or provincial governments or by any law enforcement agencies without permission of the court. The court, however, ordered that names of the detainees shall be placed under the Exit Control List until such time as state appeals against their acquittal have been decided by the Supreme Court.

The court took an exception over conduct of the home secretary and observed that the home secretary issued preventive detention order against the detainees merely on receiving information by a DIG police that the petitioners had been acquitted by the SHC and considered it enough to keep him behind bars.

Ahmed Omer Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Mohammad Adil’s death sentence and life imprisonment sentences awarded by the trial court were turned down by the SHC in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder charges on April 2 allowing their appeal that remained pending for the last 18 years.

The detainees had challenged their detention under Maintenance of Public Order for three months and later preventive detention under the Anti Terrorism Law.

The counsel of petitioners, Mahmood A Sheikh, informed the SHC’s division bench, headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha, that the home department had placed the detenues under the Fourth Schedule of the Anti Terrorism Act and extended their detention for a further three months under the Anti Terrorism Law on September 27.

He submitted that detention of the petitioners under that law was unlawful and malafidely issued by the home department. He submitted that three months detention of the petitioners was extended without referring the case to the federal review board, which was to be constituted by the Chief Justice of high court, thereby the impugned notification for detention and placement of the petitioners under the Fourth Schedule of Anti Terrorism Act was unlawful.

The petitioners counsel submitted that detention of the petitioners was issued to defeat the spirit of SHC judgment. The court was requested to set aside the impugned notification of their detention set to expire on December 27 and order their release forthwith.

Advocate General Sindh Salman Talibuddin refused to argue in the case on behalf of Sindh government and contended that this bench should not hear the case because it already made up its mind in the petition as it had already struck down preventive detention of proscribed organization activist in another case, so the case be referred to Chief Justice for constitution of another bench.

The court turned down the request and observed that it found no merit in the request. The bench observed that material provided by the intelligence agencies, which leads to petitioners being subjected to the preventive detention order, was reviewed and it was found to be different from evidence relied upon by the intelligence outfits in declaring them as activists of proscribed organization.

The court also rejected the request of the AG Sindh to adjourn the case so that he could move an application to place it before another bench, observing that adjourning the case would cause irreparable harm and extreme prejudice to the petitioners who had already remained behind the bars for over 18 years without remission, besides remaining behind bars for another nine months since their acquittal, based on Preventive Detention Order issued by the Sindh government. The SHC bench observed that based on previous conduct, it was most likely that the provincial government will again detain the petitioners under a fresh preventive detention order after expiry of the instant detention order on December 27 and the petitioners will have to file a fresh petition.

The court after hearing the arguments of the counsel for reasons to be recorded later on declared the preventive detention of petitioners as unlawful and in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The court observed that none of the petitioners were enemy aliens as contemplated under Article 10 (9) of the Constitution and as such their detention under this sub article of the Constitution was found to be illegal and without lawful authority.

The court ordered to release the petitioner from prison forthwith unless they were wanted in any other case or any order against their release has been passed by the Supreme Court. The court also ordered that none of the detenues shall be placed under any preventive detention order by the federal or provincial governments or by any law enforcement agencies without permission of the court.

The court however ordered that names of the detainees shall be placed under the Exit Control List until such time as state appeals against their acquittal were decided by the Supreme Court.

However, the petitioners could not be released on Thursday as the prison authorities had not completed the verification process. The family member of Salman Saqib, Munawar Ahmad told newsmen that the prison authorities did not release the detainees as they did not receive the verification letter from the high court and expressed the hope that they may be released on Saturday if the orders of the court was complied in letter and spirit.

The SHC on April 2, 2020 had set aside the death sentence of Ahmed Omer Sheikh and life imprisonment sentences of three other Pakistanis in the US journalist Daniel Pearl kidnapping for ransom and murder case under anti terrorism charges. The court however found Sheikh guilty of abducting Daniel Pearl and sentenced him to seven years in prison, which he had already undergone, with fine of Rs2 million.

The SHC observed in its judgment that the court could not found any evidence to prove that either the appellant or any other appellants hatched a conspiracy to kidnap Pearl for ransom but proved that appellant Omer Sheikh committed the offence of abduction of the US journalist. The court observed that it was unknown where and when Pearl was murdered and it would not be safe to convict Omer Sheikh for kidnapping for ransom or murder without strong unimpeachable corroborative evidence, which was lacking in the case.

Pearl, a US national and the South Asian region bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped on January 23, 2002, in Karachi and later shown beheaded by his captors in a video recorded message when their demands were not met. The appeals of the Sindh government against the high court orders are pending before Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the US Department of State expressed concern on the release orders of Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British born militant who was accused of killing an American journalist in 2002.

Responding to the news that a Pakistani court has ordered to release Omar Sheikh, the State department on Thursday said, "We are deeply concerned by the reports of the December 24 ruling of Sindh High Court to release multiple terrorists responsible for the murder of Daniel Pearl."

"We have been assured that the accused have not been released at this time," the statement issued by the state department said adding that "We understand that this case is ongoing and will be following closely. We continue to stand with the Pearl family through this extremely difficult process." The statement ended honoring Daniel Pearl's legacy as a courageous journalist.

Earlier this year, Omar Sheikh was acquitted of Pearl's murder but an appeal against the decision was filed. The Sindh High Court yesterday ruled that Omar Sheikh's detention was illegal.