KARACHI: The appeals of Ahmed Omer Sheikh and other convicts in the US journalist Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder case were referred on Tuesday to the chief justice of Sindh High Court for fixing it before another bench after one of the appellate bench members recused himself from the proceedings because of “personal reasons”.

Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto of the appellate bench excused himself from hearing the appeals of Omer Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Mohammad Adil against their conviction by an antiterrorism court (ATC).

The 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, who was researching a story on religious extremists, was kidnapped on Jan 23, 2002, in Karachi and later beheaded by his captors.

Omer Sheikh, the main accused, was sentenced to death while co-accused Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil were awarded life term and a fine of Rs50,000 each by an ATC in Hyderabad on July 15, 2002. The court had also directed the convicts to pay Rs2 million to the victim’s widow, Mariane Pearl.

The co-accused had challenged the ATC judgement in the SHC, a day after the state moved the court for enhancement of their sentence from life term to death. They had been convicted of helping British-born Ahmed Omar Sheikh in kidnapping and killing the US journalist. They had also sent emails containing photos of Daniel Pearl in captivity, demanding the release of prisoners held by the US in Cuba and delivery of F-16s, besides threatening to kill the journalist.

Omar Sheikh was sentenced to death for masterminding the abduction and murder.

Judge Syed Ashraf Ali Shah of the antiterrorism court had found all the four guilty of plotting to kidnap and murder Daniel Pearl after Omar Sheikh met the journalist for an interview at a hotel in Rawalpindi.

The appellants said that they had been wrongly convicted by the trial court which, they added, had ignored the defence evidence “in toto”.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2016