In a Supreme Court (SC) hearing today, the apex court ordered to remove all accused in American journalist Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder case from death cells. The court rejected the Sindh government’s plea seeking interim orders against Omar Sheikh’s release, as ordered by Sindh High Court.
All accused, including Omar Sheikh, are to be shifted to normal barracks for the next two days, where Sheikh will be kept in an “at ease environement” per the court’s orders. Omar Sheikh should be moved to a government rest house after two days, the Supreme Court said, where his family will be allowed to meet him between 8am and 5pm. He will not be allowed any contact with the outside world, and will be kept in a secure environment.
Per the court’s orders, the government will ensure the travel of Sheikh’s family members. Omar Sheikh will not be released, but be kept under strict watch.
A three-member panel, comprising Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and Justice Muneeb Akhtar presided over the hearing; Justice Bandial headed the panel. Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan argued on behalf of the federal government, while Advocate General Sindh represented the Sindh government.
As the presiding bench is not available in the coming week, the case has been adjourned for an indefinite period.
The full court order will be released by 4pm today. The order will clarify whether the period of the accused’s stay in the safe house will be legally considered part of the accused’s detention.
“The people of Pakistan have suffered immensely due to terrorism for the past 20 years. No other country has faced incidents like Macch massacre or the APS massacre,” the Attorney General said at the hearing today. “Ahmed Omar Sheikh is not just a convict but a mastermind of terrorists who is a threat to the people of Pakistan.”
“You have to prove Ahmed Omar Sheikh’s linkage with terrorists,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial responded. “The events that you referred to, how is Omar Sheikh connected to them?”
“Omar Sheikh has been in prison for 18 years. What were the measures taken on the charge of terrorism against him?” Justice Sajjad Ali Shah asked.
“The State thought that the case against Omar Sheikh in the Daniel Pearl murder is very strong,” the Attorney General responded. He also pointed out that Omar Sheikh studied from the London School of Economics.
“Until yesterday, your objection was that the High Court did not hear the federal government,”Justice Muneeb Akhtar said. “Today your arguments give the impression that your objection of not being notified does not stand.”
“My actual objection is on the matter of the notice,” the Attorney General responded.
“There was no representation of the federal government in the Sindh High Court,” Advocate General Sindh said.
“Did the Sindh Government object in the High Court on the matter of the federal government not being issued a notice?” Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked.
“No, in the High Court, the Sindh government did not object on the absence of the federal government,” Advocate General Sindh replied.
“The matter of the arrest of convicts prima facie looks like the domain of provincial government,” Justice Muneeb Akhtar said. “The federal government has given some of its prerogatives to the provinces.”
“Prima facie, only Advocate General Sindh should have been issued a notice,” he added. “Prima Facie, Attorney General’s objection does not hold ground of the federal government not being issued a notice.”
“The court can not deprive the federal government from its right,” the Attorney General argued.
“To exercise a right, one should have some matter as well,” Justice Sajjad Ali Shah responded. “Provincial government did not have ground or matter for the arrest.”
“Federal government can have grounds with them,” the Attorney General said.
“Why didn’t the federal government pass on the grounds to the provincial governments then?” Justice Sajjad Ali Shah asked.
“Looks like Attorney General has not read the reasoning behind the release a done by Sindh High Court,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial commented.
“This was malified intent that the arrest orders were repeatedly issued,”he said. “Federal government should show whatever grounds or matter it has against these people [convicts].”
“Every case has an age,” Justice Bandial said. “We do not know the age of this case.”
“Is the main accused a Pakistani national or a foreigner?” Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked. The Attorney General responded that Omar Sheikh is both a Pakistani and British national.
“Anyone being under arrest equates to no trial,” Justice Bandial said. “Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh has been in the jail for the past 18 years. He was accused of kidnapping.”
“In the [murder] video, faces were not clear either,” Justice Sajjad Ali Shah commented.
Advocate General Sindh said that the Sindh government is seeking records from the Sindh Police to present in the case. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said that the police will not have much beyond First Information Reports (FIRs).
“Interim orders should be issued until next week in the case,” Advocate General Sindh said.
“On what basis do you seek interim orders?” Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked. “In the absence of evidence, declaring anyone a terrorist would be wrong.”
“For interim orders, you should give your arguments today within five minutes,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial adviced Advocate General Sindh.
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 death or life imprisonment on charges of kidnapping Pearl and conspiring in his murder. 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—citing lack of legal grounds to keep them detained—leading to “deep concern” expressed by the United States. Meanwhile, a contempt of court case was heard in the Sindh High Court against the authorities withholding the release.
The Supreme Court’s order on Thursday upheld the order of the Sindh High Court, dismissing the appeals and calling for the immediate release of accused.
The federal government and the Sindh government filed review petitions against the SC’s judgement.
The Attorney General and Advocate General Sindh presented their arguments in the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal and the Sindh government today. The Supreme Court rejected the Sindh government’s plea seeking interim orders against Omar Sheikh’s release as ordered by the Sindh High Court.
More to follow.
This story was reported by Anas Mallick and written by Zainab Mubashir.