Islamabad: Extending the benefit of the doubt, Pakistan’s Supreme Court Thursday ordered to release Ahmed Omar Sheikh, a prime accused of killing America’s Wall Street Journal journalist Denial Pearl.
The country’s top court dismissed appeals moved by Pearl’s parents and Sindh government appeal wherein they separately challenged the Sindh High Court (SHC) judgment of acquitting Sheikh. The top court also acquitted three other accused persons in the case.
SHC on April 2, 2020, had overturned Sheikh’s conviction for Pearl’s murder but it awarded seven years imprisonment to him on the charges of abetting the kidnapping of Pearl. Since Sheikh had been incarcerated since 2002 his sentence was counted as time already served by the high court.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam issued a three-page short order wherein one member of the bench Justice Yahya Afridi partly dissented with the judgment and awarded life imprisonment to Sheikh. The detailed reasoning of the order shall be released soon.
“Ahmed Omer Shaikh, Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Shaikh Muhammad Adil shall be released from the jail forthwith if not required to be detained in connection with any other case,” ruled the short order.
“Ahmed Omer Shaikh and Fahad Nasim are convicted under sections 365-A & 120-B, PPC and section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 each and sentenced to imprisonment for life on each count,” stated the dissented note of Justice Yahya Afridi, adding that all the sentences passed against both of the convicts shall run concurrently.
Mahmood Sheikh, counsel for prime accused Omer Sheikh, told AFP that the court had come out to say that there was no offence that he had committed in this case.
However, Pearl’s family also issued a press statement released by their lawyer terming the decision a complete travesty of justice. Faisal Siddiqui, counsel appearing on behalf of Pearl family, told that they still have a remedy to challenge the instant judgment of Sheikh’s release by filing a review petition.
Under the Supreme Court rules, the review appeal shall be heard by the same judges that issued the order. Siddiqui added that there was no other legal forum except to file a review.
Provincial Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said in a statement that Sindh government had decided to move a review petition, adding that the government would fulfil all the legal requirements in Denial Pearl case. He said that Sheikh had confessed to being involved in Pearl’s murder.
Earlier, the United States had said that it may seek to try Sheikh if efforts to keep him in prison failed. A journalist Anas Malick in his tweet claimed that United States authorities would soon contact Pakistan formally in the backdrop of Sheikh’s acquittal.
Following the SHC’s order of 2020, the liberal and progressing Pakistan Peoples Party-ruling Sindh government placed all the accused persons in 90-day detention under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance, citing the reason that release of such accused persons would pose a security threat.
On July 1, the provincial government issued a fresh notification to extend their detention by three months.
However, the accused persons moved SHC challenging their continued detention and the court declared detention ‘null and void’ and ruled for immediate release.
The Sindh government challenged the SHC’s order in Supreme Court pleading that the accused persons should be kept incarcerated as their release would be a threat to national security.
The top court’s three-judge bench headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial separately heard the appeal of Sindh government against SHC’s judgment wherein it declared the notifications for detention null and void.
During Thursday’s hearing, the Sindh advocate general contended before the bench that Sheikh had links to banned outfits, adding that the provincial government submitted some sensitive information to the court in a sealed envelope. He next contended that there was evidence but not enough to prove it in court. To this, Justice Bandial observed that the evidence had not been produced earlier at any forum, questioning that as to how this court could review the information that was not the part of the record at any stage.