Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the immediate release of British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the main suspect in the sensational kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
The court ordered him to be shifted to the general barracks for two days following which he should be shifted to a government rest house by Friday under tight security, where his family will be able to visit from 8am to 5pm, the Geo TV reported.
The apex court on Monday rejected the government’s request to suspend the order to release Sheikh and his three aides – Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib – but extended their interim detention order by one day to hear the government’s position on the case.
On Tuesday, a three-member bench of the top court headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial ordered that Sheikh should not have access to the outside world from the rest house, The Express Tribune reported.
However, the court again rejected the government’s appeal to suspend the Sindh High Court’s verdict on the acquittal of the accused and asked it to file an appeal against the high court’s decision, the paper said.
In April 2020, a two-judge Sindh High Court bench commuted the death sentence of 46-year-old Sheikh to seven years imprisonment. The court also acquitted his three aides who were serving life terms in the case — almost two decades after they were found guilty and jailed.
The Sindh government and the family of Pearl filed petitions in the apex court, challenging the high court verdict.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court dismissed their appeals against the acquittal of Sheikh and ordered his release, a judgement denounced by the American journalist’s family as “a complete travesty of justice.”
The Sindh government on Friday filed a review petition in the apex court against the acquittal of Sheikh and his three accomplices.
Voicing outrage over the acquittal of Sheikh and his aides, the White House asked Pakistan to expeditiously review its legal options, including allowing the US to prosecute them to secure justice for Pearl’s family.
Amid mounting pressure from the US and the UN, a spokesman of the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) on Saturday announced that the federal government will file an appropriate application before the apex court to be allowed to join as a party in the proceedings and further seek review and recall of the court’s January 28 judgement.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the Attorney General of Pakistan told the court that Sheikh is not an ordinary accused, but a mastermind of militants and that he will disappear if released to which Justice Bandial asked him if it has been proved that Sheikh was involved in militant activities, the Geo TV reported.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, another member of the bench, said that Sheikh had already been illegally detained for a month, the report said.
“The court cannot legalise your illegal actions,” Justice Shah told the attorney-general.
Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story in 2002 on the links between the country’s powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.
His murder took place three years after Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India in 1999 and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.
He was serving a prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country.
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