Wednesday June 12, 2024

What went wrong in Daniel Pearl’s case? [Part-2]

By Azaz Syed
February 11, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Sindh Police based Daniel Pearl murder case on the confessional statements of Fahad Nasim and Syed Salman Saqib. Both these accused had played a vital role in transmitting the information of Pearl’s kidnapping and then issuing demands if the American journalist’s release was to be secured. It was accused that both were acting under the directions of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh (Omar).

Police and the prosecution say that the last email sent on 30 January 30 by the two, made Pearl’s release conditional on the fulfillment of demands such as the freedom for Mullah Abdus-Salam Zaeef, the Afghan Ambassador to Islamabad (who was detained in Pakistan and was later handed over to the US authorities), supplying of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, and freeing of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. “If these demands were not fulfilled within 24 hours, they would kill Daniel Pearl,” said their email.

Confession statements by the accused, submitted before the judicial magistrate, claim that Omar provided them the lists of handwritten demands - in English and Urdu. The last email was, in fact, sent by Nasim from his uncle’s house because Omar had strictly forbidden both of them from using public internet facilities or their own home computers for this purpose. It was the Internet connection that ultimately led the investigators to the accused.

A judicial magistrate, Iram Jahangir, recorded confessions by the duo. Besides recording their statements, she penned down an additional note saying the confessions were not offered voluntarily. The magistrate had concluded through question-answer sessions that both the accused were either tortured in detention or were promised that they would be freed through bail if they gave confessional statements. The additional note by the magistrate came to cast doubt on the confessions of the two men.

Legally, only voluntary confessions hold any importance in the courts. Police and the prosecution very strangely ignored this fact and established the case on a weak foundation that was later destroyed in the court by the defense. Why was this done? Why were more evidences not collected? Did this all happen by mistake or it was done intentionally?

Other discrepancies relating to various aspects of the weak investigations were also found. For example, the testimony of a handwriting expert named Ghulam Akbar in the court. He had told the investigators that the papers provided to both the accused listing the demands for the release of Pearl were actually written by Omar. The investigators did not consider the fact that the ‘expert’ lacked proper qualification and had no prior experience in the field. Akbar was a vital individual for he had to give opinion on two important pieces of evidence. The piece written in English was by Omar and the one in Urdu was by another accused called Adil. Omar reportedly gave these pieces of paper to Nasim and Saqib. Omar’s lawyer Mahmud Ahmad Shaikh exploited the ‘expert’s’ inexperience during cross-examination and stressed that his opinion should not have possibly been relied upon. Police, arguably ruined the case by employing an irrelevant person.

The matter of the laptop that was used by the two accused to send the email of Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping is worth special interest too. The machine was, in fact, recovered at the time of their arrest but the prosecution had introduced discrepancies regarding that as well. As per the police stance the laptop was recovered from the accused men at around midnight. However, the US FBI computer forensic expert and witness Ronald Joseph said he was told two days prior to arriving in Pakistan, i.e. on 29 January 2002, that he was to examine a laptop in Pakistan.

Joseph arrived in Pakistan on 4 February 2002, and was given the computer that very evening. He kept working on it for four to six hours daily for six days. The court took the position that if the American expert was informed about this laptop on 29 January, then how come the last email relating to Daniel Pearl’s ransom was sent from it on 30 January? If it is assumed for argument’s sake that this computer belonged to Asra Numani (a friend of Pearl who travelled to Pakistan along with Pearl and his wife) then which computer the police used to read emails from in the court. Police did not clarify which computer was presented before the court?

The court stated that either the time of the computer’s recovery was noted down incorrectly or the FBI expert’s account of the matter was incorrect.

The court suspected that the computer had been tampered before being handed over to the FBI expert. This apparent blunder by the prosecution caused the loss of the most important piece of evidence recovered in the Pearl’s case.

Surprisingly, the police have failed to recover the murder weapon even after 18 years of the incident. The only evidence relating to Pearl’s murder presented to the court was not by the Karachi police. It was a film that FBI presented before the court saying it reached them through a ‘source’. The footage showed Pearl being murdered but it did not show the murderer’s face meaning the prosecution remained unable to prove Pearl’s murder in court. Similarly, no murder weapon was presented before the court nor the dead body or a report relating to recovered body parts proving that Pearl was, in fact, murdered. Just a video was presented, about which the US Consul-General admitted in the cross-examination that the film had been recorded in a studio. The police could not provide any piece of evidence linking Omar’s presence at the spot where the murder was being recorded.

Omar’s lawyer presented 26 judicial references during the hearing, while only about 10 references were presented by the Additional Prosecutor General to prove the role of the alleged killers. In the Sindh High Court verdict, Omar was declared to be convicted only of the crime of kidnapping and not of kidnapping for ransom, because neither the prosecution was able to appropriately present all the evidence related to kidnapping for ransom nor could both the aforementioned accuser’s confessions employed properly. Omar was awarded seven years and told to pay Pearl’s widow Rs2 million failing that he would serve two more years in jail. The court considered that the accused has already spent 18 years in jail. Later in the Supreme Court, Omar was also acquitted from the allegation of kidnapping as defense apparently proved that the only witness (the taxi driver) who claimed watching Pearl go with Omar was a fake witness (actually a police official pretending to be the taxi driver).

Ostensibly the case of Daniel Pearl’s murder was effectively ruined due to weak investigation and prosecution. Pakistan’s highest court on 28 January displayed adherence to the law but Pearl’s widow and journalists searching for the truth in dangerous circumstances in the world have perhaps not been able to receive justice.


The first part of the article appeared in Wednesday’s edition