KARACHI: Just a day after the Sindh High Court overturned the death penalty handed down to Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and acquitted three others in the abduction and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, the provincial government on Friday issued orders to keep the four men in custody for at least 90 days on the grounds of ‘public safety’, officials said.

A notification issued by the Sindh home department endorsed the request from police authorities which claimed that the release of the four men could “create a law and order situation” and sought immediate action from the provincial government for safety measures.

“And whereas the government of Sindh on the basis of request and considering the merits of the case is satisfied that there is serious apprehension of public safety, in case the persons are released, that they may act against the interest of the country and public and presence of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil at any public place is likely to prove great threat to the public safety and cause breach of peace and tranquillity,” said the home department’s order.

Sindh govt decision comes a day after high court overturns death penalty in Daniel Pearl case

“In exercise of the powers under Section 3(1) of the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960, the government of Sindh has sufficient reason to believe that Ahmed Omar Sheikh, Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil be arrested and detained for a period of three months from the date of arrest. Their custody shall be placed under the senior superintendent of Central Prison, Karachi.”

A source privy to the development said that the request to keep all the four men under detention for three months came from a key wing of the law enforcement agency.

“Actually, the request came from the DIG-CIA, who operates under the direct command of the Karachi police chief,” said the source. “The security administration believes that the police and other law enforcement agencies cannot take any risk involving security of the city, province and of the freed persons at these challenging times when focus of the entire security apparatus is to maintain the lockdown imposed to prevent the coronavirus outbreak in the country.”

When asked about the fate of all persons after the end of three-month detention period, a senior police official refused to comment on the possible scenario.

“It’s too early to comment and foresee that situation. We are only responsible for enforcement of law and to maintain peace. We requested the government for their detention on the basis of only this mandate, which it has acknowledged. What would happen next, I can’t say anything about that,” said the official.

Only on Thursday, the SHC had acquitted all the appellants of the charges of murder and kidnapping for ransom and only found main accused Shaikh Omar guilty of abducting the journalist and sentenced him to seven-year imprisonment.

An antiterrorism court in Hyderabad had sentenced Shaikh Omar to death in 2002 for the murder and kidnapping of the 38-year-old bureau chief for South Asia of The Wall Street Journal for ransom and handed down life sentence to his three co-accused.

Their appeals were filed back in 2002 and after marathon hearings the appellate bench of the SHC overturned the trial court’s verdict and allowed the appeals of convicts, but with slight modification in Shaikh’s case. The appeal filed by the state for enhancement of life terms of the co-accused was dismissed.

According to the prosecution, the accused persons in Jan 2002, abducted the US journalist, demanded ransom from his wife and later murdered him and filmed his killing. Apart from the four said persons, their some alleged aides had been declared proclaimed offenders by the trial court.

While overturning the death penalty and setting aside the life terms, the SHC bench in its judgement had observed that there was no evidence against the appellants regarding hatching a criminal conspiracy to abduct the victim; nothing came on record to link any of the appellants with Pearl’s murder, no one else was shown in the video containing scenes of his beheading and the body of slain journalist had still not been found.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020