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Daniel Pearl murder: U.S. slams Pakistan court’s overturning of death sentence, calls it ‘affront’ to victims of terrorism

Alice G. Wells

Alice G. Wells  

The U.S.’ response comes after the Sindh High Court on Thursday found the 46-year-old Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and commuted his death sentence to seven years in prison.

The US on Friday criticised a Pakistani court for overturning the death sentence of British-born top al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted in the abduction and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, terming the verdict an “affront” to victims of terrorism everywhere.

The U.S.’ response comes after the Sindh High Court on Thursday found the 46-year-old Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and commuted his death sentence to seven years in prison.

Sheikh has been in jail for the past 18 years after being convicted in Pearl’s murder in Karachi in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha also acquitted the three others - Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil- serving life sentences in the case.

The overturning of the convictions for Daniel Pearl’s murder is an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere,” Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said in a tweet.

But the U.S.’ top diplomat for South Asia welcomed Pakistani prosecutors’ indications that they would appeal the decision.

“We welcome Pakistan’s decision to appeal the verdict. Those responsible for Daniel’s heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice,” Ms. Wells said.

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 on the alleged links between the country“s powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.

In another tweet, Congressman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee said he was deeply concerned by Pakistan court’s overturning of convictions for the abduction and killing of Pearl.

“It’s critical Pakistan demonstrate a real commitment to addressing its longstanding terrorism problem by holding those involved accountable,” Engel tweeted.

Congressman Brad Sherman spoke to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. to convey his view on the court verdict.

“This court decision is outrageous and will hopefully be reversed by a higher court,” he said.

“We are appalled by the court’s decision to overturn the murder conviction of Omar Saeed Sheikh and release him from prison,” said Commissioner Johnnie Moore from US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“After nearly two decades, there is still insufficient accountability for the horrific murder of Daniel Pearl who was executed, in part, for being Jewish,” he said.

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said the verdict showed not only the lack of accountability for Pearl’s murder but also the misplaced priorities of the Pakistani legal system.

“There are currently dozens of prisoners facing life sentences and the death penalty under the country’s blasphemy law, so often abused to convict religious minorities using false evidence. We urge the Pakistani government to prioritise the release of prisoners of conscience who are especially vulnerable now with the spread of the coronavirus,” she said.

Sheikh, who was the mastermind behind abduction and killing of Pearl, was arrested from Lahore in February 2002 and sentenced to death five months later by an anti-terrorism court.

The incident had come 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.

“Justice has been done to my clients,” said one of Sheikh’s lawyers Khawaja Naveed.

The case had strained the relations between Pakistan and the U.S. when terrorism was at its height in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

The verdict on Thursday came more than a month after Paris-based Financial Action Task Force warned Pakistan that stern action will be taken against it if the country fails to check the flow of money to terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) among others.

The FATF, which supervises effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing, last year placed Pakistan on its “Grey List” of countries for failure to curb funnelling of funds to terror groups like the LeT and the JeM.

If not removed from the list by April end, Pakistan may move to a blacklist of countries such as Iran that face severe economic sanctions.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 12:13:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/daniel-pearl-murder-us-slams-pakistan-courts-overturning-of-death-sentence-calls-it-affront-to-victims-of-terrorism/article31243572.ece

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