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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Daniel Pearl Case: Prosecution failed to prove guilt of main accused, SC

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a detailed verdict in the January 28 decision to release Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh — held on charges of kidnapping and killing American journalist Daniel Pearl —  saying that the charges could not be proven by the prosecution.

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a detailed verdict in the January 28 decision to release Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh — held on charges of kidnapping and killing American journalist Daniel Pearl —  saying that the charges could not be proven by the prosecution.

The apex court, on January 28, had rejected the Sindh government’s appeal and ordered the release of Sheikh, the prime accused in the 2002 murder of the American journalist in Karachi.

The provincial government had approached the top court after the Sindh High Court had overturned Sheikh’s conviction.

A three-member SC bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam, including Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, released the detailed verdict today, given with a 2-1 majority.

The court, in its ruling, said the prosecution had presented a policeman as a taxi driver, and turned him into a state witness. “Even if a convict in handcuffs admits to a crime, it has no legal value,” the judgment said. The verdict said the false witness was not shown Pearl’s photo for identification.

Moreover, the judgment observed that the deceased journalist’s wife kept emails containing threats away from the police.It said the journalist’s life was in danger, however, his wife refrained from filing a complaint for 12 days and remained quiet. “The FIR does not mention threatening emails, nor was Pearl’s wife questioned,” the judgment noted.

Furthermore, the top court ruled that the accused cannot be identified in the murder video and the original video was deliberately hidden from the police.

Had the original video clip been found, a forensic analysis would have been conducted as the court cannot rely on video evidence without it, the SC ruled.

The court remarked the prosecution had failed to prove the allegation that Sheikh had killed Pearl and the journalist’s family’s non-cooperation with the authorities in the investigation led to flaws in the investigation.

“It is the court’s job to highlight flaws in the investigation, not correct them,” the three-member bench said in the verdict.

“There were doubts in the version of events presented by the prosecution […] the defendants are being released as the prosecution was unable to provide solid evidence,” it said.

Read more: Acquittal of Daniel Pearl’s murderers: SC refuses to overturn

Meanwhile, Justice Yahya Afridi wrote a dissenting note in the detailed verdict, saying Sheikh was the last person to be seen with the journalist, and the evidence proves it. “The prosecution’s evidence against Ahmed Omar Sheikh […] in Daniel Pearl murder case was sufficient,” the judge said.

Supreme Court orders release of accused persons

It is pertinent to mention here that the Supreme Court had earlier today dismissed the appeal of the Sindh government and acquitted the accused of the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

A bench of the apex court headed by Justice Mushir Alam had announced a brief verdict over the appeal of the Sindh government against the Sindh High Court’s April 2020 decision. In the majority verdict, a member of the bench had written his note of dissent.

Four convicts of the murder case, British national Ahmed Omer Saeed Shaikh, co-accused Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil had moved the Sindh High Court (SHC) in 2002 challenging their convictions handed down by the Hyderabad Anti-Terrorism Court after finding them guilty of abducting and killing American Journalist Daniel Pearl.

The high court had overturned the verdict of the ATC and acquitted convicts on April 02, 2020. The 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, was researching for a story on religious extremists in January 2002 in Karachi, when he was abducted and slain.

US is “outraged”

The US has said it is “outraged” by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to release four men convicted of the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The White House said it was “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere”.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US “is outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the acquittals of those responsible for the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and brutal murder which shocked the world’s conscience in 2002”.

“This decision to exonerate and release Sheikh and the other suspects is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan.”

Read more: Daniel Pearl killers: tussle between judiciary and government

Ms Psaki called on the Pakistani government “expeditiously review its legal options, including the United States to prosecute Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist”.

She noted that Mr Sheikh was currently being held in detention in Pakistan “under national security authorities”.

“Wrong men convicted”

In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University following an investigation into his death made chilling revelations and said that the wrong men had been convicted for Pearl’s murder.

The investigation, led by Pearl’s friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani and a Georgetown University professor, claimed the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, not Sheikh.

A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate nearly a month later.