The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday blocked provincial authorities from releasing a prisoner who was scheduled to be freed on Wednesday, after he was acquitted this year in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
According to reports, the high court agreed Sept. 28 to consider whether to reimpose a death sentence against Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born Pakistani, whose murder conviction was overturned by a lower court in April.
During the April proceeding, the High Court of Sindh Province reportedly ruled that Sheikh was guilty of the lesser crime of kidnapping a captive Pearl. The Sindh court revoked Sheikh’s death penalty, reduced his sentence to seven years already served, and scheduled him to be released on Sept. 30, along with three of his aides.
The murder of Daniel Pearl at the hands of Islamic militants has long haunted both Pearl’s family and the international press corps, and has factored into relations between the United States and Pakistan.
Pearl was South Asia Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal when he vanished in January 2002 in Karachi.
A trusted contact reportedly agreed to introduce Pearl, 38, to a source — but instead, delivered him to a group of kidnappers. The captors brutally slaughtered Pearl, and beheaded him.
In February 2002, Sheikh was arrested for Pearl’s murder. Three others were charged in connection with the case. Sheikh was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2011, students from Georgetown University released the results of a three-year investigation, wherein they concluded that the wrong men were convicted for murdering Pearl.
“In their haste to close the case, Pakistani authorities knowingly used perjured testimony to pin the actual act of murder on Omar Sheikh and his three co-conspirators,” the students wrote in their 2011 report for The Pearl Project. “While the four were involved in the kidnapping plan and certainly were culpable, they were not present when Pearl was murdered. Others, who were present and actually assisted in the brutal beheading, were not charged.”
The true killer, the students said, was the man who confessed: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (known as KSM), the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks against the United States. Mohammed currently is in custody at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, awaiting military commission pre-trial proceedings.
“Pearl’s actual murderers will likely not stand trial for their crime,” the students wrote in their report. “Federal officials decided in the summer of 2006 not to add the Pearl murder to charges against KSM in military tribunals because they concluded that would complicate plans to prosecute him and four alleged accomplices in the 9/11 attacks.”
Sheikh remained on death row in Pakistan until April 2020, when the Pakistani lower court ruled that the evidence supported only the charge of kidnap. The ruling reverberated through the world of journalism.
“The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disappointed to see justice in the murder case of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl denied by a Pakistani court today,” CPJ official Steven Butler said in an April 2 statement. “We urge prosecutors to appeal the decision, which found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty only of kidnapping Pearl in a crime that led directly to his murder.”
This month, the Pearl family said that Sheikh’s release from prison would send a clear message to militants everywhere.
“This would be an invitation and encouragement to extreme elements all over the globe to feel free to initiate acts of terrorism, and play games with human life,” the slain journalist’s father, Judea Pearl, reportedly said. “It would be a message of impunity.”
The Supreme Court on Monday said that it will begin hearing next week an appeal over Sheikh’s acquittal. The court also accepted the Pearl family’s request to be included as a party in the case.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Just the News.