ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Pakistani-British man released from the grisly 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl from the death penalty and moved to the government’s so-called “safe house”.
Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh, who has been sentenced to death for 18 years, will be under guard and will not be allowed to leave the safe house, but he will be able to be visited by his wife and children.
“This is not complete freedom. This is a step towards freedom, “said the Sheikh’s father, Ahmad Saeed Sheikh, who attended the hearing.
The Pakistani government has been trying hard to keep Sheikh in prison since a Supreme Court order last Thursday upheld his release for Pearl’s death, angering the Pearl family and the US government.
In a last-ditch effort to cancel the release, the Pakistani government as well as the Pearl family appealed to the Supreme Court, asking to review the decision to acquit the murder of Sheikh of Pearl. The family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, however, said such a review had little chance of success because the same Supreme Court judge who ordered the Sheikh’s release sat on the review panel.
The US government has said it will seek the sheikh’s extradition if his release is confirmed. Sheikh has been indicted in the United States for the murder of Pearl as well as the kidnapping of an American citizen in 1994 in the Indian-ruled sector of divided Kashmir. The American was finally released.
Sheikh was arrested by India after the 1994 kidnapping, but was among four terror suspects released by India on December 31, 1999, in exchange for being held hostage on an Indian Airlines plane hijacked and brought from Nepal until then. The TalibanKandahar city in controlled Afghanistan.
The order to send the Sheikh to a safe house appears to have been a concession to the federal government, as well as the government of the southern Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital. The Sindh government has rejected successive orders to release the Shaykh, even filing charges of insult from a lower court.
Sheikh’s lawyer, Mehmood A. Sheikh, told The Associated Press that the order to send his client to a safe house was given to give the Sindh government time to deny him his release under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law, in connection with the Sheikh’s affiliation with terrorists. organization.
“They have never argued or sued them for belonging to a terrorist organization,” said the lawyer. He said the next trial on his client’s continued detention would not last for another two weeks. The lawyer and the Sheikh are not related.
In government-run safe houses, the sheikh will be under 24-hour guard – often by military personnel – and will not be allowed to leave the home. The location of such safe houses is usually kept secret; Pakistan’s security agency has several similar facilities across the country.
Pearl disappeared on January 23, 2002, in the port city of Karachi where she was investigating links between the Pakistani militant group and Richard C. Reid, who was dubbed the “shoe bomber” after his attempt to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives. hidden in his shoes.
Pearl’s body was found in a shallow grave soon after the video of her beheading was sent to the US Consulate in Karachi.
The Pentagon in 2007 released a transcript in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, said he had killed Pearl.
“I beheaded American Jew Daniel Pearl with my blessed right hand,” the transcript quoted Mohammed as saying. Mohammad first revealed his role when he was held in CIA custody and subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture. He remains in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay and has never been charged with the journalist’s death.
Sheikh has long denied involvement in Pearl’s death, but Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard last month that he admitted writing a letter in 2019 acknowledging his minor role – raising hopes for some that he may remain behind bars.
In a series of tweets over the weekend, the Pearl family urged followers to “call your lawmakers in Pakistan, in the US, the world to support Danny’s parents,” to keep the Sheikh behind bars.
Siddiqi, the Pearl family lawyer, said the original murder trial in 2002 charged the four as one, complicating the case and allowing the court to acquit all if there was any doubt about the guilt of even one of the suspects. Siddiqi said at the time prosecutors were under considerable pressure and threats from militants forced the trial to eventually be held inside the prison for security reasons.
Last week’s ruling acquitting Sheikh also acquitted three other men charged with Pearl’s murder who were serving life sentences. They were also ordered on Tuesday to be held in safe houses.
Pakistan has previously sent many suspects in critical cases to safe houses. In 2018, a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy charges after spending eight years on death row, was held in a safe house until her release was reviewed and she was finally able to leave Pakistan for safety in Canada in 2019.