Mehmood A. Sheikh, defence lawyer for Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, speaks to journalists outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.—AP
Mehmood A. Sheikh, defence lawyer for Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, speaks to journalists outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.—AP

ISLAMABAD: The counsel for parents of Daniel Pearl on Wednesday referred to a July 25, 2019, letter in which the principal accused, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, had conceded his minor role in the US journalist’s murder.

The letter, presented before the Supreme Court by counsel Faisal Siddiqui, was addressed to the Sindh High Court. The accused had acknowledged that his role in the issue was relatively minor and did not warrant death sentence or even the amount of time he had already served in prison, mostly in solitary confinement.

A three-judge SC bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam, took up a set of appeals instituted by the Sindh government and the parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — Ruth and Judea Pearl — through Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, as well as by principal accused Omar Sheikh through Advocate Mehmood A. Sheikh.

The appeals concern challenge to the April 2, 2020, SHC order overturning Omar Sheikh’s conviction for allegedly kidnapping and killing Daniel Pearl.

Principal accused admitted this in a letter addressed to Sindh High Court

Advocate Mehmood Sheikh conceded that the letter was written by his client to the SHC with a plea to fix his appeal against the conviction as early as possible since he had been undergoing jail term for the last 17 years. He also explained that the letter was allegedly not produced before the high court by the jail authorities, but when his client was acquitted, it was made to surface.

In his letter, the accused had also requested the court to summon Ataur Rehman alias Naeem Bukhari for recording his testimony about the abduction of Daniel Pearl and then consider it during the hearing of the appeal. Omar Sheikh had stated that it was on public record that he did not abduct the journalist — a fact which, according to the letter, was also acknowledged by the US government, by former president Pervez Musharraf in his book In the Line of Fire and by Bernard Henri Levy in his book Who killed Daniel Pearl.

The letter alleged that the US government’s pressure on Pakistan in 2002 was so intense that he was made a scapegoat to lessen the pressure and thus evidence was allegedly fabricated to convict him in the murder case. Omar Sheikh had said that when the person (Ataur Rehman) who actually abducted the journalist was arrested, he was not charged with the murder of Daniel Pearl.

Despite the fact that there was a reward money of Rs1 million on Ataur Rehman, the letter said, he was never produced before the court. Instead, he was kept in secret custody of Rangers and then in Sukkur jail and was charged with possessing drugs. After his release, Ataur Rehman carried out devastating attacks in Karachi. He was arrested again and sentenced to death by a military court.

The letter contended before the high court that if Ataur Rehman was executed, the evidence of his actual role in the journalist’s murder would be lost forever. Therefore, it requested the court to issue a stay order ensuring that he was not executed until he recorded his testimony in the murder case.

On Wednesday, Advocate Faisal Siddiqui filed an application in the Supreme Court with a request that certain news items should be brought on record of the court since these were relevant for reaching a just decision in the case.

The documents mainly comprise newspaper clippings, first being a Dawn story of November 2008, titled “Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India, Pakistan to brink of war”. According to the story, Omar Sheikh had made hoax calls to then president Asif Zardari and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kyani in a bid to heighten tensions after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

The other was a February 2018 story by The New York Times stating that the Pakistan military said it had foiled an attempt to free Omar Sheikh. Similarly, another report by Economic Times stated the Pakistan Army had arrested nearly 100 militants and foiled an imminent jailbreak attempt to free top Al Qaeda leader Ahmed Sheikh.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up the application on Thursday. The Sindh prosecutor general has been asked to furnish a reply in this regard.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2021

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