SHC irked by ‘continuous’ detention of four men freed in Pearl murder case

Published November 5, 2020
A file photo of journalist Daniel Pearl. — Dawn
A file photo of journalist Daniel Pearl. — Dawn

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Wednesday expressed serious resentment over the provincial authorities for the continuous detention of four men set free around seven months back by the order of the SHC in the abduction and murder case of US journalist Daniel Pearl.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice K.K. Agha directed the home department and police to file a comprehensive report by Nov 26 regarding allegations and detention of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, commonly known as Shaikh Omar, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil.

The petitioners had moved the SHC through their counsel against their detention.

The lawyer for petitioners submitted that initially, they had been placed under 90-day detention by the provincial authorities under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance shortly after their release orders on April 2. On July 1, a fresh notification under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 was issued for their further detention of three months and later their confinement was extended for yet another 90 days.

Home dept told to file report by Nov 26 regarding allegations against Shaikh Omar and three others

At the outset of the hearing, the bench came down hard on the provincial home department and police for continuously keeping the petitioners under detention without providing any cogent reason and issued directions for the home secretary, inspector general of police and others to immediately appear before it for explanation.

Later in the day, the home secretary along with Sindh advocate general and a deputy inspector general appeared in court and submitted that the petitioners were affiliated with terrorist outfits in the past and also involved in terrorism.

Justice Agha remarked that the bench was talking about the present and if there was any evidence against the petitioners the same should be brought before the court.

The home secretary submitted that the provincial authorities had powers to issue detention orders under the relevant laws and the Supreme Court had also issued a ruling in this case.

Justice Agha asked the secretary to produce the copy of the apex court’s order if any and also expressed displeasure over the advocate general for seeking more time.

The bench also took exception to the absence of the prosecutor general and remarked that they were being told that prosecutor general was on one-month leave while he was appearing in courts in other cases.

The bench directed the lawyer for the petitioners to file an amended application in the light of the latest detention order before the next hearing.

On April 2, a two-judge bench of the SHC acquitted all the appellants from the charges of murder and kidnapping for ransom and only found main accused Ahmed Omar Sheikh guilty of abducting the slain journalist and sentenced him to seven-year imprisonment. However, the sentence had been completed since the convict had already spent around 18 years in detention.

The provincial government and the parents of the slain journalist had challenged the SHC’s order before the Supreme Court.

An antiterrorism court in Hyderabad had sentenced Sheikh to death in 2002 for murder and kidnapping of the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal and co-accused were awarded life term for helping the main convict.

Biometric system at prisons

Another division bench of the SHC has directed the home secretary and IG Prisons to appear before it on Nov 26 in connection with the installation of a biometric system in all the detention facilities in the province.

The bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar observed that the provincial authorities in a progress report said some efforts had been made to improvise the verification of prisoners.

The bench asked the home secretary and IG Prisons to turn up on the next hearing so that the matter may be finalised in their presence to keep vigilance and follow up in future.

The bench was hearing a 2013 petition in which it was said that certain convicted prisoners in connivance with jail authorities had replaced themselves with their namesakes in prisons by paying them hefty amounts of cash.

At the outset of the hearing, an assistant advocate general submitted a progress report in which it was submitted that the process had been started for upgrading the software regarding establishment of the biometric system in all jails in Sindh.

The report further said that the software regarding establishment of biometric facilities through a NADRA link had been upgraded in the Karachi central prison, Malir jail, women prison Karachi, youthful offender industrial school (juvenile prison) Karachi, central prison and juvenile and women prisons in Sukkur and central prison Khairpur.

The report said that the cells of the criminal record office had been reportedly ready at different detention facilities for men, women and juveniles in Hyderabad and district prison Naushahro Feroze, but not yet functional since SSP concerned had not provided computers as well as other relevant devices to the IT director of the Central Police Office.

It said the upgrade of software at 10 other prisons of the province was under process and would be completed soon.

The authorities gave assurance in the progress report that different types of equipment would be made available within short time.

It may be recalled that the SHC had ordered the jail authorities in 2015 to put the biometric system in place for the verification of prisoners.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2020

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