ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Pakistan have re-arrested four men convicted in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, a day after a provincial appeals court overturned their convictions and allowed them to walk out of prison.
The accused included British national Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh, who had been on death row since his conviction 18 years ago for plotting the murder of The Wall Street Journal reporter. Three others, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, and Sheikh Adil were serving life sentences.
Sindh provincial authorities on Friday cited “public safety” concerns for holding the four men.
“The government of Sindh has sufficient reason that Ahmed Omar Sheikh and Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib, Sheikh Muhammad Adil be arrested and detained for a period of three months from the date of arrest (April 2, 2020),” said an official notification.
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, the capital of southern Sindh province, and beheaded weeks later.
Pakistani officials have vowed they would appeal to the Supreme Court against the provincial court’s Thursday ruling clearing the four convicts.
US condemned ruling
The two-judge panel’s ruling drew a swift denunciation from Washington and globally as well as from groups in Pakistan campaigning for the rights and security of journalists.
“The overturning of the convictions for Daniel Pearl’s murder is an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere,” tweeted the top American diplomat for South and Central Asia.
“We welcome Pakistan’s decision to appeal the verdict. Those responsible for Daniel's heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice,” wrote Alice Wells, the principal U.S. deputy assistant secretary.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was “deeply disappointed” to see that the Pakistani court denied justice in the murder case of the WSJ reporter.
“We urge prosecutors to appeal the decision, which found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty only of kidnapping Pearl in a crime that led directly to his murder,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
'Shocking symbol of impunity'
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the ruling as a “shocking symbol of impunity” for violent crimes against journalists and an “incoherent” decision.
Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, noted that the court order recognizes Sheikh’s guilt while in effect overturning his conviction.
“This is a shocking denial of justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and will stand as a symbol of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in Pakistan,” Bastard said.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in a statement, showed its concern over the reduction in Sheikh’s sentence, saying it will “bring a bad name” to the country.
The union demanded the court review its decision and asked the government to immediately file an appeal against it in the Supreme Court “so that the culprits be brought to justice.”
Defense attorney Khwaja Naveed Ahmed told VOA on Thursday that Sheikh was not charged with murder at the time of his arrest in 2002, before news of Pearl’s murder became public.
Ahmed said Sheikh was only charged with kidnapping and handing Pearl over to someone else. The charge of murder was added once a video of Pearl’s beheading surfaced.
“The prosecution’s story was that Sheikh became friends with Pearl because he could speak French and had graduated from the London School of Economics,” Ahmed said.
Pearl’s beheading made headlines around the world and the 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.
VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem contributed to this report.