Pak SC refuses to suspend Sindh High Court judgement in Daniel Pearl murder case

Sajjad Hussain

Islamabad, Jun 29 (PTI) Pakistan's Supreme Court on Monday rejected a plea to stay a high court verdict that overturned the conviction of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story in 2002 on the alleged links between the country's powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.

On April 2, a two-judge Sindh High Court bench overturned the death sentence of British-born 46-year-old al-Qaeda leader, who was convicted in the abduction and murder of Pearl in 2002. The court also acquitted his three aides serving life sentences in the case.

The Sindh government and parents of Pearl challenged the high court verdict in the Supreme Court, where a three-member bench led by Justice Mushir Alam heard the case on Monday.

The Sindh government lawyer, Farooq Naek, urged the top court to issue a stay order but the judges refused to grant the stay in the case.

They also observed that the court cannot accept the plea unless some glaring discrepancy was cited in the decision of the high court.

Justice Alam asked as to how the apex court could suspend the SHC's judgment pertaining to the acquittal of three accused persons without solid reasons.

Naek told the court that unless the stay was given, the government would be forced to release the accused who were held for three months under the Maintenance of Public Order regulation.

Two days after the Sindh High Court overturned Sheikh's conviction on April 2, the Sindh government invoked the Maintenance of Public Order to keep the convicts in jail. Their imprisonment would end on July 2.

He told the court the men acquitted by the high court were dangerous terrorists and would cause problems. The court observed that the provincial government was empowered to extend their detention or even change laws regarding keeping them in custody.

Later, the court adjourned the case and announced that the next hearing would be held in September.

Early this month, the apex court refused to suspend the Sindh High Court judgment.

The US had criticised the Pakistani court for overturning the death sentence of the al-Qaeda leader, terming the verdict an 'affront' to the victims of terrorism everywhere.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has mounted pressure on Pakistan by demanding justice for Pearl.

'The United States will not forget Daniel Pearl,” Pompeo said in a tweet in early April. “We continue to honour his legacy as a courageous journalist and demand justice for his brutal murder,” he said.

Last month, the US prodded Pakistan by seeking justice for Pearl.

'On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, we honour the legacy of journalist Daniel Pearl. We appreciate the Govt of Pakistan's 4/22 appeal to reinstate guilty verdicts against Daniel's murderers, now buttressed by the filing of the Pearl family's appeal before the Supreme Court,' State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells tweeted on May 3.

Pearl's murder took place three years after Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India in 1999 and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814. He was serving prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country. PTI SH ZH ZH