SHC issues contempt notices to chief secretary, others in Daniel Pearl case

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday served contempt notices to the provincial chief and home secretaries in a petition seeking to initiate contempt proceedings against the officials for blocking the release of four suspects in the Daniel Pearl murder case despite a court order.

In April 2020, the high court overturned the murder conviction of principal suspect Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh while acquitting Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil.

However, following the court verdict, the Sindh government placed them under 90-day detention under the Maintenance of Public Order. Subsequently, on July 1, a fresh notification under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was issued to extend their detention by three months and later, in October, their confinement was extended for yet another 90 days.

In December, the high court set aside the provincial government’s detention orders and ordered it to immediately release the suspects.

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However, after the government failed to comply with the court order, a contempt petition was filed against the chief secretary Mumtaz Shah, and officials of the provincial and jail authorities.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Central Prison Karachi superintendent Hassan Sehto and the special secretary of the home department were present. The court expressed displeasure over the absence of chief and home secretaries.

“Don’t they know contempt proceedings against them are in progress in the court,” the bench questioned.

The court adjourned the hearing and ordered the nominated officials to appear before the court in the next hearing on January 20.

Pearl, 38, the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted on January 23, 2002, in Karachi and beheaded the next month, reportedly by Al-Qaeda. Sheikh had been convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi in which he was kidnapped.

Prior to his kidnapping, the journalist had been investigating the link between reportedly Pakistan-based militants and Richard Reid, the notorious “Shoe Bomber” who attempted to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

In July 2002, following the hearings, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Hyderabad had sentenced to death Sheikh and life term to other co-accused. However, all four convicts had moved the SHC in 2002 challenging their convictions.

In his autobiography, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, former president Pervaiz Musharraf had claimed that Sheikh, a British national and a student at the London School of Economics (reports suggest he did not graduate), was hired by MI6 to engage in “jihadi operations”, adding that “at some point, he probably became a rogue or a double agent”.

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