Daniel Pearl killers: tussle between judiciary and government

The Sindh High Court had recently decided to acquit Daniel Pearl's murderers after 18 years. This decision was received very poorly by the international community, and the provincial government has decided to detain the accused for three more months.

Daniel Pearl killers

Pakistani authorities renewed the detention orders Thursday for four men whose convictions in the kidnapping and killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl had been overturned, meaning they will remain jailed at least three more months, an official said.

A Karachi court sparked outrage in April when it acquitted British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three other men convicted in Pearl’s 2002 kidnapping and beheading. The men were kept in custody following their acquittals, under a law allowing authorities to detain high-profile militants for three months.

Daniel Pearl killers to remain detained 

“We have received orders from the (provincial) government for them to be detained for a further three months,” a prisons official in Karachi’s Sindh province told AFP on condition of anonymity. Pakistan’s supreme court is expected to hear an appeal of the acquittal cases in September.

In an unexpected development, which goes against the grain of recent decisions, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday refused to suspend the acquittal of four men in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The Acquittal of Daniel Pearl’s murderers by the Sindh High Court was upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

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

A three-judge panel turned down the plea while hearing the appeals filed by the government and Pearl’s parents challenging the acquittal of the previously convicted men by the high court, local broadcaster Geo News reported.

What happened to Daniel Pearl? 

Pearl, 38, was South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants.

His dismembered body was found on the northern outskirts of Karachi four months after his disappearance.

British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil were found guilty of abducting and beheading Pearl in Pakistan.

A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate in the city nearly a month later. Observers at the time said the killers were acting out of revenge for Pakistan’s support of the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.

Killers’ sentencing and subsequent acquittal

In June 2002, an anti-terrorist court sentenced Sheikh to death and the other three to life. His arrest and conviction in 2002 came in quick succession, at a time when Pakistan was under severe pressure from the United States to eliminate terror networks operating on its soil.

Read more: Acquittal of Daniel Pearl killers: Supreme Court takes up appeal

But in April of 2020, nearly 18 years after the convictions, a two-judge panel of the SHC in Karachi acquitted all defendants, declaring the prosecution had failed to prove the case.
The court ordered their release from custody but the government, citing “public safety” concerns, barred the move after strong criticism from Washington.

The death sentence of prime accused, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, was commuted to seven years in jail. Three of his accomplices, who were serving life sentences, were freed.

The US government immediately criticised the court order. In May, the parents of Daniel Pearl moved the Pakistan Supreme Court, seeking a reversal of the Sindh High Court order.

Daniel Pearl’s parents appeal 

The slain journalist’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl, wrote an article in Dawn, expressing their hope that Daniel would get justice and the acquittal of his killers would be overturned. They wrote:

“Today, we are standing up for justice — not only for our son, but also for all of our dear friends in Pakistan and around the world. The men behind Daniel’s murder represent an extremism that we must challenge, and the world is watching how the courts in Pakistan keep its citizens safe from terrorism and creates a future of peace”.

They also filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, against the acquittal of their sons killers.

Two criminal petitions have been filed by renowned lawyer Faisal Siddiqi on behalf of Pearl’s parents – Ruth Pearl and Judie Pearl -against the acquittal and release of the four accused.

“The decision by the Sindh High Court to free the men in the murder of Daniel Pearl is a complete miscarriage of justice. It is a defining case for the Pakistani state and its judicial system, involving freedom of the press, the sanctity of every life, freedom from terror and the manifestation of a welcoming and safe Pakistan to the world. Rarely has any court case embodied and risked such fundamental values,” said the lawyer.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

Could this detention signify a power struggle between the government and judiciary? What are your views on this? Share with us in the comments bar below. 

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