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Judge Replaced, Trial Moved in Pearl Murder Case - 2002-04-30

In Pakistan, a provincial high court has replaced the judge hearing the trial of four men accused of murdering U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl. The court has also ordered the trial be moved out of the port city of Karachi to a nearby city deemed more secure.

The High Court in Pakistan's Sindh province responded to prosecution requests on Tuesday and ordered the trial moved to the city of Hyderbad, about 120 kilometers east of Karachi. The court also ordered a new judge, Ali Ashraf Shah to hear the case.

Prosecutor Raja Quereshi had claimed security at the Karachi jail was inadequate and that the government had received reports that Islamic militants were planning to blow up the jail to try and free alleged kidnap ringleader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and his three co-defendants. Last week the prosecutor asked that judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon be replaced, saying he was unable to keep order in the courtroom.

The ruling by the Sindh High Court is the latest twist to complicate the trial of those accused of abducting and murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Originally scheduled to last seven days, the trial is now expected to last at least several more weeks.

Defense lawyers said they had no objection to the trial being moved out of Karachi, but did feel that Judge Memon had been fair.

The prosecution says the judge had failed to stop the defendants from making threats against witnesses who testified that alleged ringleader Omar Sheikh, as he is known locally, had met with Daniel Pearl on two occasions, once on January 11 and then again on January 23, the night Mr. Pearl disappeared. All four of the men on trial could face the death penalty if convicted. They all deny involvement in the case. Seven other co-conspirators remain at large.

Mr. Pearl was investigating ties between Islamic militants in Pakistan and alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is accused of trying to detonate explosives in his shoes while on board an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami last December. Daniel Pearl's death was confirmed in a gruesome video that showed his beheading. His body has yet to be found.