The Pulse | Security | South Asia

Pakistan to Keep Top Suspect in Daniel Pearl Murder in Jail, Despite April Acquittal

The government has opposed Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s release, despite his acquittal in April, saying it would endanger the public. 

By Munir Ahmed for
Pakistan to Keep Top Suspect in Daniel Pearl Murder in Jail, Despite April Acquittal
Credit: Pixabay

A British-born Pakistani man who has been on death row over the 2002 killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl will remain in jail for another three months despite his acquittal by a lower court earlier this year, according to a government order on Wednesday.

The development was announced by prosecutors during a brief hearing of the high-profile case at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which was to decide whether the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, should stay in jail following his acquittal. 

The court convened on an appeal by Pearl’s family, seeking to keep Sheikh on death row over the beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter.

According to Faisal Siddiqi, the lawyer representing Pearl’s family, government prosecutor Fiaz Shah told the judges he needed more time for paperwork in connection with the case. The judges then adjourned the hearing till October 21.

Siddiqi, who had expected the court to rule against Sheikh’s acquittal on Wednesday, said he still hopes such a decision would come before the expiration of the suspect’s new, 90-day detention.

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Sheikh’s defense lawyer, Mahmood Shaikh, told The Associated Press he had expected his client to walk free on Wednesday. “My client cannot be kept in jail for an indefinite period,” Shaikh said. 

The lawyer said he has already challenged Wednesday’s three-month extension in Sheikh’s detention in Sindh province and that his motion would be taken up by a local court there on October 19. 

Under Pakistan’s flawed legal system, the appeals process against Sheikh’s acquittal could take years. The government has opposed Sheikh’s release, despite his acquittal in April, saying it would endanger the public. 

Sheikh had been convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi where he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes. 

The lower court’s April ruling acquitted Sheikh and three other accomplices, who had been sentenced to life in prison for their role in the plot. The lower court found Sheikh guilty of a single lesser charge of abduction, which he is also appealing. 

The acquittal had stunned the U.S. government, Pearl’s family, and journalism advocacy groups. In 2002, when Pakistan police were still searching for Pearl, a video received by U.S. diplomats showed his beheading.

Pearl’s family says it received assurances from the U.S. State Department that it was closely following Sheikh’s acquittal and subsequent appeals.

Pearl, 38, of Encino, California, was abducted January 23, 2002. In Sheikh’s original trial, emails between Sheikh and Pearl presented in court showed Sheikh gained Pearl’s confidence sharing their experiences as both waited for the birth of their first child. Pearl’s wife Marianne Pearl gave birth to a son, Adam, in May 2002.

Evidence entered into court accused Sheikh of luring Pearl to his death, giving the American journalist a false sense of security as he promised to introduce him to a cleric with militant links.

By Munir Ahmed for the Associated Press in Islamabad, Pakistan.