Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the UK-born al-Qaeda terrorist, and his three aides accused of kidnapping and murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, will remain behind bars in Sindh despite a provincial court ordering their immediate release.
Sindh government officials confirmed that they would not release them and instead seek permission from the court to keep them detained.
The local government is expected to file another petition on Monday against the decision by the Sindh High Court last week to immediately release Sheikh and the co-accused in the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter, a provincial minister said.
The Sindh court on Thursday declared the detention orders to be null and void. But it clarified that the accused should not be released if there is a Supreme Court restraining order regarding their detention.
The Sindh government is taking the stance that the Supreme Court had on September 28 barred it from releasing the convicts as it began hearing arguments which challenged the provincial court’s decision.The Pakistan People’s Party-led Sindh government believes that the apex court’s order in the case is still valid, sources told the Express Tribune daily.
The provincial government as well as Pearl’s parents had filed separate appeals against an April 2 order of the Sindh High Court that had modified Sheikh’s death sentence to seven-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs2 million.
That decision came after the court heard the appeals of Sheikh and his accomplices Fahad Naseem, Adil Sheikh and Salman Saqib against the sentence after 18 years. It acquitted Adil Sheikh, Saqib and Nasim and commuted Omar Sheikh’s death sentence to seven years. He has already spent 18 years in prison on death row and his seven-year sentence for kidnapping was counted as time served.
However, the government issued two preventive detention orders for 90 days each under which the accused continued to remain in custody. The first notification was issued the day the men were acquitted and the second one three months after they completed their detention period.
Pearl, then 38, was abducted and murdered in Karachi in January 2002 while he was in Pakistan to work on a story about the links between Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US, carried out by the terrorist group in 2001.
Sheikh Aslam, Adil Sheikh’s brother, told local media that if his brother was not released, he would file a contempt of court application on Monday.
On Friday, the US expressed “deep concern” over the order to release Sheikh and his aides and said it will continue to monitor any developments in the case.
“We are deeply concerned by the reports of the December 24 ruling of Sindh High Court to release multiple terrorists responsible for the murder of Daniel Pearl. We have been assured that the accused have not been released at this time,” the state department said in a tweet.
It said that the US will continue to monitor any developments in the case and will continue to support the Pearl family “through this extremely difficult process” while honouring the legacy of Pearl as a “courageous journalist”.
The US has been mounting pressure on Pakistan, demanding justice for Pearl.
His parents Ruth and Judea Pearl condemned the decision made by the Sindh High Court and expressed full confidence in the Supreme Court of Pakistan to provide justice for their son and reinforce the paramount principle of the freedom of the press, the Express Tribune reported.
“We refuse to believe that the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people will let such a travesty of justice tarnish the image and legacy of Pakistan,” they said in a statement.
Pearl’s murder took place three years after Omar Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.
He was serving a prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country.
(With inputs from Agencies)