ISLAMABAD: Pakistan‘s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered to shift British-born al-Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the main accused in the sensational kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, from the death row cell to a rest house run by the government.
A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial ordered Sheikh, 46, to be transferred to the general barracks for two days following which he should be shifted to a government rest house by Friday under tight security, where his family will be able to visit from 8am to 5pm, officials said.
However, he will not have access to a mobile phone or internet. The government will pay for his family’s accommodation and transport.
The court said that Sheikh would be under guard and not allowed to leave the place where he would be kept.
However, the court again rejected the government’s appeal to suspend the Sindh high court’s verdict on the acquittal of the accused and asked it to file an appeal against the high court’s decision.
Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story in 2002 on the links between the country’s powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.
In April 2020, a two-judge Sindh high court bench commuted the death sentence of Sheikh to seven years imprisonment. The court also acquitted his three aides who were serving life terms in the case – almost two decades after they were found guilty and jailed.
The Sindh government and the family of Pearl filed petitions in the apex court, challenging the high court verdict.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court dismissed their appeals against the acquittal of Sheikh and ordered his release, a judgement denounced by the American journalist’s family as “a complete travesty of justice.”
The US government has asked Pakistan government to ensure that those involved in murdering Pearl should be punished.
The Sindh government on Friday filed a review petition in the apex court against the acquittal of Sheikh and his three accomplices.
Voicing outrage over the acquittal of Sheikh and his aides, the White House asked Pakistan to expeditiously review its legal options, including allowing the US to prosecute them to secure justice for Pearl’s family.
Amid mounting pressure from the US and the UN, a spokesman of the attorney general of Pakistan (AGP) on Saturday announced that the federal government will file an appropriate application before the apex court to be allowed to join as a party in the proceedings and further seek review and recall of the court’s January 28 judgement.
The apex court on Monday rejected the government’s request to suspend the order to release Sheikh and his three aides – Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib – in the case but extended their interim detention order by one day to hear the government’s position on the case.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the attorney general of Pakistan told the court that Sheikh is not an ordinary accused, but a mastermind of terrorists and that he will disappear if released to which Justice Bandial asked him if it has been proved that Sheikh was involved in terrorist activities.
The attorney-general said that the federation has the power to detain dangerous criminals but bench member justice Sajjad Ali Shah said that Sheikh had already been illegally detained.
“The court cannot legalise your illegal actions,” Justice Shah told the attorney-general.
Justice Munib Akhtar said it was not the dark ages that an accused should remain in jail even after 18 years.
The court then ordered immediate removal of Sheikh from the death row cell. The court adjourned the case indefinitely.
The Pakistan government is scrambling to keep Sheikh in custody after the top court had ordered to release him if he was not wanted in any other case.
The pressure mounted on Pakistan as the US secretary of state Blinken called foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to demand justice for Pearl.
Pearl’s murder took place three years after Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India in 1999 and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.
He was serving a prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country.