The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday set aside the provincial government's detention orders for four men set free around eight months back by the order of the SHC in the abduction and murder case of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
However, their names were placed on the no-fly list and they were also directed to appear before the court whenever summoned.
The bench pronounced the order after hearing lengthy arguments from both sides and observed that the provincial authorities remained unable to produce justified reasons for the continuous detention of the petitioners – Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil – who had moved the court through their counsel against their continuous detention since their release order in April.
During today's hearing, a two-judge bench, presided over by Justice K. K. Agha, directed security agencies not to keep Sheikh and other accused under "any sort of detention" and declared all notifications of the Sindh government related to their detention "null and void".
After their acquittal on charges of murder by the high court in April, the provincial government had placed them under 90-day detention under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance. On July 1, a fresh notification under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was issued to extend their detention by three months and later their confinement was extended for yet another 90 days.
Last month, the SHC had expressed serious resentment over the provincial authorities' continuous detention of the four men.
In the hearing today, the court observed that the men's detention was "illegal" and that they should not be held anymore unless wanted in some other cases or if their release was barred by order of the Supreme Court.
Daniel Pearl, 38, a Wall Street Journalist working in Pakistan, was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while doing research on religious extremism. Later, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US Consulate after a month of his abduction. Subsequently, Sheikh, the prime suspect, was arrested in 2002 and later sentenced to death by a Hyderabad anti-terrorism court while the three other men were sentenced to life imprisonment for helping him.
But on April 2 this year, the SHC modified Sheikh's sentence to seven years after acquitting him for the journalist's murder and convicting him for a role in the kidnapping only. The high court also acquitted the three other accused.
Sheikh, who had already spent 18 years in prison on death row, was expected to be released after the high court verdict since his seven-year sentence was to be counted as time already served.
The Sindh government as well as the parents of Pearl had filed separate appeals against the SHC's order in the Supreme Court. The top court is currently in the process of hearing these appeals.
Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court had temporarily barred Sindh authorities from releasing the men as it began hearing arguments on the appeals. However, it was an interim order which ended on the next date of hearing. Currently, there is no order of the apex court barring the men's release.
Additional reporting by Shafi Baloch.