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SC refers appeals in Pearl case to CJP for early decision

ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court bench on Tuesday referred a set of appeals against the overturning of Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh’s death sentence in the Daniel Pearl case to Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed with a request to fix the hearing within two weeks as his 30-day detention under the anti-terrorism law will end on Sept 30.

The Sindh government as well as parents of the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) South Asia bureau chief had filed separate appeals against the April 2 order of the Sindh High Court that had modified the sentence of the prime accused to seven-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs2 million.

The 38-year-old journalist was doing research on religious extremism when he was kidnapped in Karachi in Jan 2002. Next month a video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate, followed by the arrest of Sheikh, a Pakistani British, who was later sentenced to death by a trial court.

A three-judge bench of the apex court comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik and Justice Qazi Amin Ahmed requested the CJP that if the appeals were fixed before the bench considering urgency of the matter, it could be heard for the entire day and decided.

Omer Sheikh’s detention under ATA to end on 30th

The urgency concerns the expiry of the 30-day detention period of Sheikh under Section 11 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, which will expire on Sept 30. The convict had been detained under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO), previously.

Senior counsel Farooq H. Naek, representing the Sindh government, earlier invited the apex court’s attention to the expiry date of the detention period and said that the prime accused in the Daniel Pearl case would be released if the matter was decided after Sept 30. Mr Naek urged the apex court to fix the matter for Sept 23 and dedicate the entire day so that the matter could be decided early.

The previous hearing had to be postponed in the wake of a death in the family of Sindh Prosecutor General Dr Fiaz Shah, the main petitioner in the present case, though appeals were also instituted before the apex court by Ruth Pearl and Judea Pearl, the parents of the slain WSJ journalist, through senior counsel Faisal Siddiqui.

Justice Qazi Amin Ahmed asked the counsel to furnish complete synopsis so that the court could examine and decide the matter in totality of the circumstances under the available jurisprudence.

Justice Manzoor Malik asked why Nasir Abbas, a taxi driver who had claimed that a foreigner had travelled in his taxi, was not made a witness in the case. Besides, he wondered about evidence to establish that the captive was actually Pearl.

Justice Malik also reminded the senior counsel that the petitioner had not challenged the conviction, but Sheikh’s acquittal for serving out the modified imprisonment.

Mr Naek said the taxi driver had mentioned about a foreigner who sat in his cab, but how he could know the name of the traveller. The entire case was based on circumstantial evidence, the counsel argued, adding that seven points needed to be considered by the apex court for upholding or discarding the high court judgement.

Mehmood A. Sheikh, the counsel for Sheikh, highlighted that his client had been incarcerated for the past 18 years and six months.

The Sindh government had already expressed the apprehension that Sheikh in view of the ‘strong’ evidence against him might abscond along with the co-accused after the SHC’s April 2 decision.

The SHC had not only modified Sheikh’s sentence but also acquitted three co-accused — Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib, who had been sentenced to life-imprisonment by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) of Karachi.

The parents of the WSJ journalist in their petition pleaded that the high court erred in discarding the evidence of the forensic expert of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) solely on the ground that the forensic expert had stated in his evidence that he was given the laptop belonging to Fahad Naseem on Feb 4, 2002, whereas the witnesses had stated in their evidence that the laptop was recovered on Feb 11, 2002.

They argued that in the present case, the evidence of the forensic expert and his forensic report clearly proved that the said laptop had been used for sending ransom emails.

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