The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has ordered the immediate release of Omar Sheikh, the primary accused in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping and murder case, today. In its short order, the apex court dismissed the petition against its earlier judgement by the Sindh government, and upheld the verdict of the Sindh High Court (SHC).
In the court hearing today, two of the three judges in the bench headed by Justice Musheer Alam ruled in favour of the Sindh High Court’s verdict.
Daniel Pearl, an American journalist heading the Wall Street Journal’s Pakistan bureau in 2002, was beheaded and mutilated after being allegedly kidnapped by the accused. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (known as Omar Sheikh), Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib, and Sheikh Muhammad Adil were sentenced to life imprisonment or death. However, the Sindh High Court acquitted all four in April 2020. This acquittal was appealed by Pearl’s parents and the Sindh government in the Supreme Court.
In December 2020, the SHC ordered the immediate release of the accused, leading to “deep concern” expressed by the United States. The SC’s order today upheld the controversial order of the SHC.
The judgement today comes immediately after a significant development in the case on Wednesday, when Omar Sheikh admitted a “minor role” in Pearl murder after 18 years of denials. The admission was done in a letter handwritten by Omar Sheikh in 2019, in which he admitted to limited involvement in Daniel Pearl’s death. The letter was submitted to the Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago and, on Wednesday’s hearing, Sheikh’s lawyers confirmed that it was written by their client. The Pearl family attorney, Faisal Siddiqi, had called this confirmation a “very, very important development” in the case.
Following Thursday’s SC judgement, Daniel Pearl’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl, have expressed devastation over the new developments.
“Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and 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,” they said.
“We also hope that the Pakistani authorities will take all necessary steps to rectify this travesty of justice. No amount of injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl.”
It is likely that today’s judgement will be followed by a strong response by United States authorities.
On December 30, 2020, the US Justice Department had issued a statement saying it was willing to take custody of Omer Sheikh if Pakistani authorities fail to keep him detained.
“We remain grateful for the Pakistani government’s actions to appeal such rulings to ensure that he and his co-defendants are held accountable,” said the US Justice Department had said.
“If, however, those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here. We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder.”
More to follow.