The Daniel Pearl verdict comes at a time when the new US administration has just come to power. The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered the release of four men accused of the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the principal accused in the kidnapping and beheading of Pearl.
Daniel Pearl was Wall Street Journal’s South Asia Bureau Chief. He was working on a story about links between religious extremists in Karachi and ‘shoe-bomber’ Richard Reid. He went missing in January 2002 from Karachi and a month later, a video of Pearl’s beheading was delivered to the US Consulate in Karachi.
The White House did not take the SC order lying down and expressed outrage right after. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the decision “an affront to terror victims everywhere” and said Washington is “committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family”. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken on Friday and discussed the Daniel Pearl murder case, among other issues.
Blinken tweeted: “Spoke with @SMQureshiPTI on ensuring accountability for convicted terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and others responsible for Daniel Pearl’s murder. The Foreign Minister and I underscored the importance of continued US-Pakistan cooperation in supporting regional stability.”
The Sindh government filed a review petition on Friday, asking the SC to revisit its decision. As per news reports, the federal government will also join the review proceedings. While it may not lead to any different outcomes, lawyers believe that it could give the Sindh government a chance to keep Sheikh in jail.
Ahmed Omar Sheikh is quite notorious. According to an explainer by AP, “Sheikh was arrested by India after the 1994 kidnappings but was among terror suspects freed by India on December 31, 1999, in exchange for the hostages on an Indian Airlines aircraft that was hijacked and taken from Nepal to the then Taliban-controlled Afghan city of Kandahar.” He is also said to have been a part of the conspiracy to assassinate General Musharraf and was said to be the person who called Asif Zardari, impersonating the Indian external affairs minister from inside his prison cell, as per Dawn.
Last year in April Sheikh was found guilty of a lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of Rs 2 million to be paid to Pearl’s widow and his orphaned son who was born after the murder. The other three accused — Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Sheikh Muhammad Adil, and Syed Salman Saqib — were also cleared of all charges. They were earlier given life sentence, which was overturned. The SC order also shows how the case was mishandled by the prosecution from the start.
The case was treated on the basis of a conspiracy and never went into the details of the murder. There was no weapon recovery, which is important in a murder case. That such a sensitive and a high profile case was mishandled by our prosecution speaks volumes about our weak judicial system. It is important that we improve our judicial system as well as forensic investigation. Pakistan cannot take this lightly as the new US administration and Pakistan’s relations cannot start on a wrong footing.