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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court in a 2-1 decision on Thursday dismissed the appeals of the Sindh government and the parents of Daniel Pearl in the murder case of the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ’s) bureau chief for South Asia.

A three-member bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam, after examining the Sindh government’s reply announced its short order, which said: “The criminal appeals of Sindh government, criminal petitions of Daniel Pearl’s parents are dismissed, respondent (Umer Sheikh) for release accepted.”

“The respondents are released forthwith if not required in any other case,” the order further said.

Justice Mushir said the detailed reasoning of their short order would be announced later on.

Justice Yahya Afridi disagreed with the other two members of the bench – Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood.

He allowed, albeit partially, the appeals of the Sindh government and Daniel’s parents in terms that Ahmed Umer Shaikh and Fahad Nasim are convicted under sections 365-A & 120-B, PPC and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 each and sentenced to imprisonment for life on each count.

“All the sentences passed against both of the convicts shall run concurrently. The benefit under section 382-B, CrPC shall be extended to them, according to him.

He dismissed the Sindh government’s and parents’ appeals to the extent of Syed Salman Saqib and Shaikh Muhammad Adil, and maintained their acquittal on all the charges; “they shall be released from the jail forthwith, if not required to be detained in connection with any other case”.

He dismissed the appeal filed by Ahmed Umer Shaikh.

Prosecutor General Sindh Fiaz Shah told the court that both the provincial and the federal governments confirmed the media reports which are part of Daniel Pearl’s parents’ CMA-18/2020.

Justice Yahya Afridi questioned: “Is there any specific information that President [Asif Zardari] and the then army chief received hoax calls by Umer Sheikh from the jail?”

The PG Sindh replied, “They approached the intelligence agencies and they are collecting the data”.

Upon that Justice Tariq Masood, another member of the bench, said, “This incident had taken place in 2009 and now after 12 years you are telling the court that data is being collected about the hoax calls.”

Daniel’s parents through advocate Faisal Siddiqui had filed a CMA, which contains media reports on Umer Saeed Sheikh’s links with terrorist organisations, and working against the integrity of Pakistan, such as, “a detained Pakistani militant, Omar Saeed Sheikh, had made hoax calls to President Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a bid to heighten Pak-India tensions after last year's terrorist attacks on Mumbai”; and the statement that “Pakistan Army arrested nearly 100 militants and foiled an imminent jailbreak attempt to free top-al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh …”

Daniel Pearl, WSJ’s bureau chief for South Asia, was killed in Karachi in January, 2002. His wife Mariane Pearl on 04.02.2002 had filed an FIR at Artillery Maidan Police Station, Karachi.

A trial court in Karachi on 15-07-2002 had convicted Ahmad Umer Saeed Sheikh and awarded him death sentence, while Adil Sheikh, Salman Saqib, and Fahad Nasim were given life imprisonment under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

However, a division bench of the SHC, Karachi, on 2nd April 2020 acquitted the accused.

It also held that the subject case does not fall within the purview of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; therefore, Umer Sheikh is entitled to both remissions in accordance with the law and the benefit of Section 382-B, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898.

Despite the SHC’s judgment, the provincial government instead of releasing the accused detained them under Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) in Karachi jail.

The SHC, on December 24, 2020, set aside the provincial government’s detention orders of four men which it had ordered eight months ago to set them free.

The Sindh government challenged that order before the apex court.

Another three-judge bench of the SC, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, on 28th January, 2021, though granted leave to appeal, but declined to suspend the SHC order and said will pass an order on the stay, requested by the provincial government.

The Sindh government on April 22 had filed an appeal under Article 185(3) of Constitution in the Supreme Court, while Daniel’s parents filed a constitutional petition against the SHC’s judgment on May 2.

It was the stance of the Daniel’s parents – Ruth Pearl and Judea Pearl – that the SHC in the impugned judgment had wrongly held that the convictions and sentences awarded by the trial court to the “respondents No 2 to 4 and Ahmed Umer Shaikh” could not be sustained on the basis of the standard of proof, meaning that the prosecution had not been able to prove the case against the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt and the benefit of doubt must go to the accused persons.

They submitted that certain facts are required to be admitted; first, the deceased person was abducted: second, the deceased person was abducted/kidnapped for ransom as ransom emails were received and recovered. However, what is denied by the “Respondents No 2 to 4 and Ahmed Umer Shaikh” is their role in sending the ransom emails but not the fact that the ransom emails were actually received.

Third, the deceased person was brutally murdered by way of beheading.

They further submitted that a bare reading of the impugned judgment makes it evident that the impugned judgment “creates an artificial distinction between the offences of kidnapping for ransom and abduction in the facts of this case”.

According to Faisal Siddiqui, the counsel for Daniel’s parents, the main accused [Ahmed Umer Sheikh] had written a letter to the Chief Justice Sindh High Court acknowledging his role in the abduction for ransom of Daniel Pearl and knew who had murdered the bureau chief of WSJ in Pakistan.

The accused had asked for remission in sentence, awarded by the trial court, he added.

Faisal Siddiqui also spoke about the postmortem and DNA reports, which confirmed that the decapitated body was of WSJ’s journalist.

He, however, contended that the SHC in its April 2020 judgment ignored these facts due to the negligence of prosecution.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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