ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Pakistan on Friday petitioned the Supreme Court to review its decision to free Omar Sheikh and his three accomplices convicted of kidnapping and beheading the American journalist Daniel Pearl, the Pearl family lawyer has confirmed to VOA.
The Biden administration has expressed outrage by Thursday’s decision by Pakistan’s highest court to acquit the British national convicted in 2002 of plotting the kidnapping and beheading of Pearl.
Hours after the ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also underscored the administration's commitment to secure justice for Pearl’s family.
“This decision to exonerate and release Sheikh and the other suspects is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan," she said, calling on the “Pakistani government to expeditiously review its legal options including allowing the United States to prosecute Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist."
The court cleared Ahmed Omar Sheikh and his three Pakistani accomplices in the case of all the charges, ordering that Sheikh and others be immediately freed from jail, if not wanted in any other case.
The four men have spent 18 years in prison in Pakistan for the gruesome murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter.
“The judgment says that they should not have been in prison even for one day,” the men’s attorney, Mehmood Sheikh, no relation with Omar Sheikh, told reporters outside the Supreme Court.
An anti-terrorism tribunal in the Pakistani province of Sindh, where the crime occurred 18 years ago, had sentenced the British-born Sheikh to death for masterminding Pearl’s killing. His three accomplices were given life sentences.
In April 2020, however, an appeals court in Sindh overturned the verdict, reducing Sheikh’s sentence to seven years in prison for kidnapping only and allowing him to be freed for time served. The ruling ordered that Sheikh’s accomplices be freed.
Pakistani authorities have since prevented the four men from walking free.
The April judgment prompted the parents of the slain U.S. journalist and the provincial government to swiftly file appeals in the Supreme Court to seek restoration of the 2002 convictions, leading to Thursday’s outcome.
"The judgment of the Supreme Court is that these four people who were accused of kidnapping Daniel Pearl and allegedly murdering him, that judgment which was given by the trial court in 2002 has been set aside finally and put to rest,” attorney Sheikh explained.
The Pearl family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, noted the three-judge Supreme Court panel ruled 2-to-1 in favor of upholding Sheikh’s acquittal.
“Thursday’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan,” the Pearl family said in a statement released by Siddiqi.
"We urge the U.S. government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice,” they added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also criticized the court ruling.
“We are deeply disappointed that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted and ordered the release of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh, despite overwhelming evidence of Sheikh’s involvement in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, which led directly to his murder,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Daniel Pearl deserves justice and Sheikh deserves to pay for his crime. Journalists everywhere are less safe today due to this decision.”
Pearl was visiting Pakistan to report on Islamist militant networks in the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror strikes on U.S. cities before being kidnapped in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, and beheaded days later.
Washington said last month that it “stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial insisting the U.S. “cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder." But legal experts in Pakistan maintain that the country’s laws do not allow another country to undertake such an intervention.