SC orders Umar Shaikh's release in Daniel Pearl murder case
Pearl's family calls SC ruling ‘a travesty of justice’, pleads for US intervention in the case
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Upholding the Sindh High Court’s decision, the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court announced its short verdict on Thursday with a majority of two to one.
The Supreme Court dismissed a series of appeals including one from Sindh government against the acquittal of British-born Umar Sheikh, convicted of masterminding the kidnap and murder of Daniel Pearl, paving the way for his release along with three other accomplices.
"The court has come out to say that there is no offense that he has committed in this case," Mahmood Sheikh, who represented accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, told AFP.
Justice Muneeb Akhtar remarked that it’s very dangerous to declare own citizens as anti-state elements.
One member of the three-judge bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, penned a conflicting note.
The Advocate General Sindh told the court that Umar Sheikh had links with the banned organisations and the Sindh government had submitted sensitive information in a sealed envelope to the court. “There are facts but these are not such which can be proved in court,” he admitted.
Justice Bandial remarked that the material which was presented to the court was not submitted to any forum before. “How can we analyse such information which have never been placed on the record,” he said, adding “If the state had the information then shy Umar Sheikh was not tried for anti-state activities.”
Justice Muneeb Akhtar said that the government had never declared Umar Sheikh as “enemy agent”. “No one can deny the war on terror but when it will end nobody knows.”
Ordering the release of all the accused, the court said that they should be freed immediately if not wanted in other cases.
The court will issue the detailed judgment later.
The Supreme Court ruling follows an international outcry last year after a lower court acquitted 47-year-old Umar Sheikh of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnapping, overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after almost two decades in prison.
Daniel Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about militants. Nearly a month later, after a string of ransom demands were made, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate.
Lawyers for Pearl's family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in organising the abduction and detention of the journalist, before ordering his captors to kill him.
Defence lawyers, however, say he has been used a scapegoat for the murder and was sentenced on insufficient evidence.
Sheikh and the three other men convicted of involvement in the kidnapping have been held under emergency orders by the Sindh government, which has argued that they are a danger to the public.
There was no word on when they will be released following Thursday's decision.
Pearl's family called the top court's ruling "a travesty of justice" and pleaded for US intervention in the case.
"The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice," the family said in a statement.
In a statement last month, the then-US acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that America "stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here" after labelling the acquittal "an affront to terrorism victims everywhere".