Daniel Pearl case | Conviction of four accused overturned

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is pictured in this January 30, 2002 photo,   | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Sindh High Court on Thursday overturned the conviction of four persons accused of kidnapping and killing Daniel Pearl, a reporter of Wall Street Journal, in Pakistan for lack of evidence.

“No evidence has been brought on record by the prosecution to link any of the appellants to the murder of Pearl, and as such, all the appellants are acquitted of murder u/s 302 PPC,” said the court in its judgment.

The main accused, British-Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who was on death row for the murder, was found guilty of a lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of ₹2 million to be paid to Pearl’s widow and his orphaned son, who was born after the murder.

Sheikh has been in custody since 2002. The seven-year prison sentence will be counted as served as he has been in prison for 18 years.

The incident came 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 a prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country.

The other three accused in the Daniel Pearl case — Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Sheikh Muhammad Adil, and Syed Salman Saqib — have been cleared of all charges. They were earlier given life sentence, which has now been overturned. The three had been charged with abetment and conspiracy to kill, abduct and murder Pearl.

Pearl was Wall Street Journal’s South Asia Bureau Chief. He was working on a story about links between religious extremists in Karachi and ‘show-bomber’ Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a passenger plane.

Pearl went missing in January 2002 from Karachi. A month later, a video of his beheading was delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

Read: Editorial | Pakistan is the world's most hazardous place for journalists.

The other accused — Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Sheikh Muhammad Adil, and Syed Salman Saqib — have been cleared of all charges. They were earlier given life sentence, which has been overturned.

Talking to The Hindu, Pakistan Bar Council vice-chairman Abid Saqi said the benefit of the doubt must go to the accused in murder trials.

Read | Power of the pen - Recalling the work of the journalist Daniel Pearl

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s lawyer Mahmood A Sheikh said he was “disappointed” with the judgment, though it was a “welcome decision that Omar Saeed Sheikh has been acquitted of all charges, except kidnapping”. “...there was no evidence of kidnapping either. Observations regarding all charges in the court went in the direction that the prosecution has failed to establish any case against my client.” The prosecution tried to link Pearl’s kidnapping with the identification parade, which the court said was faulty.

Barrister Sheikh says the prosecution tried to link Pearl’s kidnapping with the identification parade, which the court said was faulty. “No mandatory procedural requirements were followed in this particular case.” He says the dummies presented in the parade had to be of the same size and same physique as the accused, and must be wearing a dress similar to that of the accused. “The identification parade was unreliable as it was held in piecemeal. Therefore, the court made it unequivocally clear that non-following of the procedural requirements cannot be ignored.” The only other evidence of kidnapping was from one witness — against whom there is an allegation that he was a police employee — who said that after 7 p.m. a day in January (2002), when it was dark, he had a fleeting look at someone who came out of one particular car. Daniel Pearl got in the back of the car while the person he identified as Omar Sheikh came from the front seat of the car. This witness never described what Omar was wearing or how he looked. 

Barrister Sheikh says the other evidence produced was by Jameel Yusuf, chairman of the police liaison committee, who was with Daniel Pearl earlier that day. According to him, Pearl received a call to which he responded, “I remember our appointment at 7 p.m. I am very close to your office.” But the witness says the meeting was on the roadside. “There is a big difference between roadside and office.” Barrister Sheikh says the telephone number from which the call came was registered in the name of someone else. “A gentleman who was the manager of Mobilink at that time, Colonel Usman, said this record presented to the court is our record but interpolation was that it had been forged. The name of the subscriber with two witnesses was someone else but there was a handwritten note in Urdu that said ‘alias Omer Sheikh’, which made it unreliable. The prosecution never produced the person who had the SIM registered in his name.


Sindh Prosecutor-General Faiz Shah told The Hindu that an appeal would be filed by tomorrow [Friday]. About Sheikh’s release, Dr. Shah said the paperwork would take some time so he would not be released immediately. “It may take a couple of days.”

“If any delay occurs in the release of my client beyond any reasonable period, I will move a habeas corpus petition in the Sindh High Court because his continued detention would be illegal,” Barrister Mahmood A Sheikh said. 

Rai Bashir Ahmad, lawyer of the other three accused, said there was no evidence against his clients. “My clients were not present at Akbar International Hotel in Rawalpindi where the conspiracy had allegedly been hatched. They were not at the alleged scene of abduction. There was no evidence of their role in the murder either. Now let’s talk about what was recovered from them. A laptop was ‘recovered’ from my clients on February 11 while the American expert [a FBI forensic expert] who came to examine the evidence had already examined the laptop on February 4 and went back.” The prosecution said this laptop was used to send e-mails about kidnapping Pearl for ransom. Rai Bashir adds, “Two cameras allegedly linked to the pictures/videos [of Pearl after his abduction] were never recovered. The prosecution only presented the receipts of cameras purchased by my clients but established no link of those cameras with the said pictures/videos. Purchasing of cameras isn’t an offence! The last piece of evidence was the photocopies of e-mails from the kidnappers. Now these were already attached with the original FIR. Even the magistrate who recorded their confessional statement said it seemed the confessions were not voluntary and were given under duress.”

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, who has followed the case since 2002, says it was mishandled by the prosecution. “They treated this case on the basis of conspiracy and never went into the details of the murder. Weapon recovery didn’t take place, which is a must in murder cases. In my discussions with the original prosecution team back in 2002, I was told that if they went into the murder aspect, the case would be prolonged. There’s also the entire saga of how and why Omar Sheikh surrendered and the role of our current Interior Minister Brigadier (retired) Ijaz Shah in it. What is interesting is that for 18 years, the appeal of the accused was never heard but suddenly in the first week of March, it was put up for daily proceedings and the judgment was reserved on March 6, which has been announced today.”

(With PTI inputs)

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 9:04:06 AM |

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