The Sindh High Court of Pakistan has directed on Thursday, the release of British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three others in connection with the abduction and murder in 2002 of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The high court’s release order overturns the government detention orders that Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, should remain in custody. The court called the provincial government’s detention orders illegal.
Sheikh,47, who was previously sentenced to death for his role in the plot, was acquitted earlier this year of the murder charges, but remains in detention while Pearl’s family appeals the acquittal.
The acquittal is being appealed separately by both the Pakistani government and Pearl’s family.
The court held that neither the provincial nor the federal government had cause to keep Sheikh or the three others behind bars. However, the provincial government is reportedly going to appeal against the release order.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom, said it supports the pursuit of justice for Daniel Pearl.
“Releasing Omar Saeed Sheikh and his accomplices would add to the threats facing journalists in Pakistan,” the CPJ tweeted.
Faisal Siddiqi, who is the lawyer for Pearl’s family, said the “detention order is struck down” and explained that Sheikh would be freed until the appeal is completed but would return to prison if they become successful in overturning the acquittal.
Sheikh’s lawyer Mehmood A. Sheikh, with whom he is not related, called for his client’s immediate release.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court is scheduled to resume its hearing in the case on 5 January. Mr. Siddiqi said he expects the appeal to be decided by the Supreme Court by the end of January.
Sheikh was arrested in India in 1994 in a case related to the kidnapping of foreign tourists but was released with two terrorists in December 1999 at Kandahar in exchange for an Indian Airlines flight which was hijacked by terrorists.
Pearl, the 38-year-old journalist of The Wall Street Journal`s South Asia bureau, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story of terror groups` links to Al Qaeda.
Sheikh was convicted of helping to lure the Wall Street Journal reporter to a meeting in Karachi in January 2002 from where he was kidnapped. Subsequently, a gruesome video of Pearl’s beheading was sent to the US consulate.
Sheikh’s role in the murder of Pearl is disputed – he is believed to have taken part in the kidnapping, but is thought not to have taken part in his killing. (Source: Independent UK)