• Provincial govt calls for suspension of release order
• Blinken terms verdict affront to terror victims
ISLAMABAD/ WASHINGTON: Moving swiftly, the Sindh government on Friday filed a set of petitions seeking review and suspension of the Supreme Court order of releasing Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh, a British Pakistani believed to be the mastermind behind the abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal bureau chief Daniel Pearl, as after a strong reaction from American authorities against the acquittal the US Justice Department sent a formal request to Pakistan expressing its desire to take custody of Sheikh to stand trial in a US court.
By a majority of two to one, a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam had on Thursday by extending the benefit of the doubt ordered release of Omer Sheikh and co-accused forthwith if not wanted in any other case. The judgement came on the appeals challenging the April 2, 2020 Sindh High Court’s overturning of Omer Sheikh’s conviction for allegedly kidnapping and killing Daniel Pearl. The high court had modified the sentence of Omer Sheikh through its April 2 order to seven years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs2 million. The high court had also acquitted three co-accused namely Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib, who had been awarded life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi.
Hours after the SC judgement on Thursday, White House spokeswoman said the US was “outraged by the decision” while US secretary of state declared that America was ready to prosecute Sheikh in US courts, expressing commitment to securing justice for the family of Daniel Pearl and holding the terrorists accountable.
Daniel Pearl, 38, was doing a research on religious extremism in Karachi when he was abducted in January 2002. Later, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US-Consulate a month after his abduction. Subsequently, the British Pakistani suspect, Omer Sheikh, was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by the trial court.
While requesting the SC to suspend the January 28 short order and restrain the release of Omer Sheikh from the Central Prison Karachi, Sindh Prosecutor General Dr Fiaz Shah on Friday filed
the review petitions under Article 188 of the Constitution. Review petitions were also filed in relation to co-accused Fahad Nasim, Salman Saqib and Shaikh Mohammad Adil.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the apex court judgement, the Sindh government has argued that the order is liable to be reviewed since it was contrary to law and facts, apparent on the face of record, adding that it also suffered from material irregularities in the manner besides it converted the process from one being in aid of justice to a process of injustice.
Sindh govt arguments
The review petition contends that the Supreme Court short order also overlooked important aspects of law and facts, which were manifest and float on the surface and the conclusion arrived at had become perverse and non-tenable in the eyes of law.
It questions whether the order/judgement under review suffers from floating omissions and patent mistakes which have crept in by way of judicial fallibility and whether the order suffers from patent misdirection of law and facts which has impacted on the interest of public good and violated the due process.
The review petition argues that the last seen evidence, impersonation and identification parade have duly been proved against Omer Sheikh and have been maintained concurrently by both the courts below.
Moreover, the video cassette showing the committing of murder of deceased Daniel Pearl was never challenged as the same was verified by a public official (PTV expert), the review petition says, adding that in view of these collective proofs together with the clear and categorical confessional statements of the respondents (accused) and the co-accused, the acquittal and modification of sentence through the Thursday judgement is not sustainable and liable to be set aside.
Similarly, it argues, the evidence of natural and independent witnesses had confirmed the demand of ransom by the respondents – a fact also stood proven through documentary evidence. As such acquittal of the accused and modification of sentence is illegal and unlawful, the review petition contends.
It says the respondent with the connivance of the co-accused acted to achieve nefarious designs and committed the offences which fall under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 and such factum has been accepted and admitted by the high court.
The Sindh government contended that the accused/respondents had failed to produce any material evidence to create doubt against the evidence produced by the prosecution, rather Omer Sheikh during remand categorically admitted his guilt before the presiding officer of the trial court that he committed the offences in league with other co-accused who also voluntarily confessed their involvement before the competent court.
Hence the offences were proven that all accused in connivance with each other committed the offences and they were vicariously liable for committal of all offences including murder of Denial Pearl, the Sindh government emphasises.
The review petition clarifies that as only the short order has been announced by the apex court, the petitioner reserves the right to file an application to amend the present petition when the detailed reasons become available.
US seeks custody
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department sent a formal proposal to Pakistan on Friday, expressing its desire to take custody of Omer Sheikh to stand trial in a US court.
“The Department of Justice reiterates that the United States stands ready to take custody of Sheikh to stand trial here on the pending charges against him,” said Acting US Attorney General Monty Wilkinson. “He must not be permitted to evade justice for his charged role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder.”
The US attorney general, however, recognized that Pakistani authorities were doing their best to ensure that Omer Sheikh remained in custody. “We remain grateful for the Pakistani government’s opposition to these acquittals on appeal, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said.
But the US Justice Department was “deeply concerned by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s ruling affirming the acquittal of individuals convicted by a Pakistani trial court for the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl,” Mr Wilkinson added.
He noted that Omer Sheikh had long been indicted in the US and must be held accountable for his crimes. “The release of those involved would be an affront to Daniel Pearl’s family, to other terrorism victims around the world, and to the cause of justice,” he added.
The statement by Acting US Attorney General Monty Wilkinson followed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s offer on Thursday to prosecute Omer Sheikh in US courts.
Mr Blinken in his first statement on Pakistan said he was “deeply concerned by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit those involved in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder and any proposed action to release them”.
“We are also prepared to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen,” he said. “We are committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists accountable.”
Secretary Blinken, who took charge of his office on Wednesday, recalled that Sheikh had been indicted in the US in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the murder of Pearl, the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, as well as the 1994 kidnapping of another American citizen in India.
He termed the verdict an “affront to terrorism victims everywhere” and said that the US expected Pakistan’s authorities to “expeditiously review its legal options to ensure justice is served”.
“The court’s decision is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan. The United States recognises past Pakistani actions to hold Omer Sheikh accountable and notes that Sheikh currently remains detained under Pakistani law,” he said.
Mr Blinken also took note of the attorney general of Pakistan’s statement that the latter intended to seek a review of the verdict.
Expressing similar sentiments in a tweet posted on Friday, he stated: “I am deeply concerned by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit those involved in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. We are committed to securing justice for the Pearl family and holding terrorists accountable.”
On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said the US was “outraged by the Supreme Court decision to affirm the acquittals of those responsible” for Pearl’s slaying and underscored the administration’s commitment to securing justice for Pearl’s family.
At her daily briefing, Psaki called on the Pakistani government to quickly review legal options including letting the US prosecute those acquitted.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2021
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