–Court says prosecution failed to prove case against Ahmed Omer Sheikh and three others
KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday turned the death sentence awarded to Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh, the prime suspect in journalist Daniel Pearl murder case, in a seven-year jail term in addition to acquitting other three suspects, earlier handed life sentences, as it announced its verdict in the case.
The other three suspects are Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil.
The verdict was announced by a two-member bench, headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha – which had reserved the judgement last month on the appeals filed by the convicts in 2002 – after hearing arguments and examining the record and proceedings of the case.
In the detailed verdict, the bench declared that the prosecution had failed to prove the case against the suspects. However, it said, the judges found Sheikh guilty of being involved in abduction-for-ransom of the slain journalist and sentenced him seven years in jail, Anadolu Agency reported, citing defense counsel.
However, the bench said, since Sheikh has been in prison for the last 18 years, his seven-year sentence will be counted from the time served, implying that he has already served his sentence.
The court also turned down the appeal of the state, also filed in the same year, seeking enhancement of the sentence.
Pearl, 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. His murder sent shock waves throughout the world and was covered extensively in the Western media.
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 claim that 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”.
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.
While arguing the case, the defense had maintained that the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove its case against their clients beyond any reasonable doubt and prosecution witnesses were mostly policemen, whose testimonies could not be relied upon.
They had further contended that Naseem and Adil Sheikh’s confessions before a judicial magistrate were defective and not voluntary.
They had argued that the recovery of the laptop from Naseem was shown to have been made on Feb 11, 2002, while computer expert Ronald Joseph had deposed that he was given the computer for verification on Feb 4 and he examined the laptop for six days.
Deputy Prosecutor General Saleem Akhtar had supported the trial court’s verdict and submitted that the prosecution had proved its case against the appellants beyond a shadow of doubt and had requested the court to dismiss the appeals.