New Delhi: Pakistani authorities are seeking new legal means to continue to detain Omar Sheikh, who was ordered by a court to be released Thursday 18 years after he was convicted of the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, according to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report.
Pearl was a reporter with the WSJ.
The Sindh High Court in Karachi Thursday ordered an immediate release of Omar, the main convict in the 2002 abduction and beheading of Daniel Pearl, along with three others. They had been in jail since 2002.
In its report published late Thursday, the WSJ quoted a senior Pakistani legal official, Faiz Shah, who was the prosecutor general for the southern province of Sindh, as saying Omar would remain behind the bars. “He will be detained,” he said.
Shah was also quoted as saying that he would again try to prevent Omar’s release and that an earlier Supreme Court ruling would be used to ensure that.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was one of the three terrorists freed by India in 1999 in exchange for passengers of the hijacked flight IC-814.
In April this year, the Sindh High Court had commuted Omar’s death sentence to seven years in jail, and acquitted his three aides, Fahad Naseem, Shaikh Adil and Salman Saqib, who were serving a life term.
Since Omar had already served 18 years, he was allowed to be released too. However, the Pakistan government placed all four under preventive detention under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Omar and his aides had then moved the Sindh High Court against their continuous detention.
Ordering their release Thursday, the court said they can’t be detained again without its permission. The four were, however, put on the no-fly list.
The two-judge bench of Sindh High Court observed Thursday that the detention order issued by the Sindh government was “illegal”.
Daniel Pearl’s family and the provincial government had appealed to the country’s Supreme Court against the April ruling of the Sindh HC, which had overturned the conviction of the main accused. The Supreme Court is currently in the process of hearing the appeal.
After the Thursday ruling, the US State Department said it was deeply concerned by the court decision.
“We continue to stand with the Pearl family through this extremely difficult process,” the State Department tweeted. “We continue to honor Daniel Pearl’s legacy as a courageous journalist.”
(1/3)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.
— State_SCA (@State_SCA) December 24, 2020
Pearl, a 38-year-old journalist of Wall Street Journal, was abducted and murdered in Karachi in January 2002 while he was in Pakistan to work on a story about religious extremism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Omar, a British national, was arrested and convicted on three separate charges related to the abduction and murder of Pearl, and was sentenced to death for each by a Hyderabad anti-terrorism court.
The three other men were sentenced to life imprisonment for helping Omar. However, the Sindh High Court overturned Omar’s convictions for murder and terrorism in April this year, and the third conviction was downgraded to simple kidnapping.
Omar was first arrested in India — from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur in October 1994 after he had kidnapped four foreign tourists to demand the release of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen chief commander Sajjad Afghani.
Omar, along with terrorists Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, was released by India in 1999 after terrorists hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 and demanded their freedom in exchange for the passengers taken hostage by them.