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Slain American Journalist's Family Seeks Justice From Pakistan's Top Court

FILE - Judea Pearl, father of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl, speaks at an event honoring the memory of his son, in Miami Beach, Florida, April 15, 2007.

The parents of a murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl filed an appeal Saturday with Pakistan’s Supreme Court against a recent lower court verdict that overturned the convictions of four men accused in the 2002 kidnapping and slaying case.

A special anti-terrorism court in the Pakistani province of Sindh, where the crime occurred 18 years ago, had sentenced to death British national Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh for masterminding the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter. The three others were given life sentences.

Last month, an appeals court in the provincial capital, Karachi, overturned the verdict and ordered that Sheikh’s accomplices be freed. It also reduced Sheikh’s sentence to seven years in prison for kidnapping only, allowing him to be freed for time served.

The Sindh High Court had ruled there was enough evidence to link Sheikh to Pearl’s abduction but not his murder.

Saturday’s petition, posted online, sought the Supreme Court reversal of the ruling, noting that Pearl’s parents “are aggrieved by the impugned judgement passed by the Honorable Sindh High Court.”

Attorney Faisal Siddiqi, confirmed to VOA he has filed the petition on behalf of Pearl’s family in the Karachi chamber of the Supreme Court.

The deceased journalist’s father tweeted details of the petition along with an emotional video message. “We are standing up for justice for not only our son, Daniel Pearl, but for all of our dear friends in Pakistan, so they can know a society free of violence and terror, and raising their children in peace and harmony,” said Judea Pearl.

The April 2 judgment drew a swift denunciation from the United States and global outrage, as well as Pakistani groups campaigning for the rights and security of journalists.

The reaction prompted Pakistani authorities to halt the release of the four men, citing “public safety” concerns, a law often used in high-profile cases in Pakistan to buy time for prosecutors to file an appeal.

A federal interior ministry statement defended the move, saying it “reiterates its commitment to follow due process under the laws of the country to bring terrorists to task.”

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) hailed Saturday’s decision, saying it “strongly supports” the Pearl family’s pursuit of justice in the case.

“The release of Omar Saeed Sheikh and his accomplices would only add to the threats facing journalists in Pakistan and deepen Pakistan’s reputation as a haven for terrorists,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said.

Pearl, 38 at the time of his murder, was visiting Pakistan in January 2002 to investigate links between Islamist militants and planners of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes on the United States before he was kidnapped in Karachi and beheaded weeks later.

Pearl’s beheading made headlines around the world and the subsequent international outcry forced Pakistan to take swift action against the perpetrators. Later, a detailed report issued by a Georgetown University investigative journalism effort said that Pearl had been beheaded by al-Qaida’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Saturday’s petition identified British-Pakistani Sheikh as “an internationally known terrorist.” It noted the man was arrested in India in 1999 in relation to the kidnapping of foreigners in that country. Later that year, Sheikh was released from prison and sent to Afghanistan in exchange for passengers aboard hijacked Indian plane.