Omar Sheikh's detention termed 'null and void'
The man accused of luring Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl into the Al-Qaeda death trap may walk free after 18 years in prison as a court struck down orders to detain him any further on Thursday morning.
The Sindh High Court issued a short order that the detention orders of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib were null and void while hearing the Daniel Pearl murder case.
The men were detained after they were deemed free to go in April and were being kept at the Karachi Central Jail. However, their lawyers challenged them being further detained on the Sindh government orders. This is what the court struck down as being issued “without lawful authority”.
Earlier this year, on April 2, the court heard appeals against their men’s death sentence. It then acquitted Adil Sheikh, Saqib and Naseem and commuted Omar Sheikh’s death sentence to seven years and fined him Rs2,000,000. Omar Sheikh has already spent 18 years in prison on death row and the court said that his seven-year sentence for kidnapping would be counted as time served. Sheikh is 47 years old.
The men were, however, detained under Section 11 EEEE (preventive detention for inquiry) of the Anti-Terrorism Act. According to the law, the government may issue preventive detention of any person accused of terrorism for a period of 90 days and it cannot be challenged in court. The first notification was issued the day the men were acquitted and the second one three months after they completed their detention period.
The court has ordered their immediate release, adding that their names should be put on the no-fly list.
The order, which was released later in the day, said that the Sindh advocate general argued that the bench should not hear this case as it has “already made up its mind in their petition”. The court ruled that it found “no merit” in this argument and had declined/rejected it.
The advocate general told the court that the preventive detention order of the acquitted men will expire on December 27. The court said that it is possible that the Sindh government would once again detain the petitioners under another preventive detention order to prevent their release from jail.
“In our view not to hear this petition today would cause irreparable harm and extreme prejudice to the petitioners who had already been behind bars for over 18 years without remission prior to their acquittal and have since their acquittal have remained behind bars for almost a further nine months,” the order said.
They will be released immediately unless “they are wanted in any other custody case or any order against their released has been passed by the Supreme Court”.
Sheikh Aslam, Adil Sheikh’s brother, told SAMAA Digital that the jail authorities have confirmed to him that they are going to release his brother after they receive a signed order from the court. (Correction: Sheikh Aslam is not Omar Sheikh’s brother but Adil Sheikh’s).
“The court was very clear today that my brother (Adil Sheikh) has to be released today,” said Aslam. “We are waiting for the order and will take it to the prison.”
We expect him to be released tonight or tomorrow morning, he added.
By approximately 5:30pm, Sheikh Aslam had acquired a signed copy of the court order. This order would have to be presented at the jail, in order to secure Adil Sheikh’s release. The family was considerably apprehensive as these developments unfolded. They declined to the photographed or to speak to cameras.
By approximately 7pm, tight security arrangements were in place outside and inside Karachi Central Jail. The bailiff and Adil Sheikh’s lawyer arrived to deliver the court’s release order.
By 7:30pm on Thursday, it became clearer that the men could be released on Saturday as December 25 would be a holiday. They can only be released after verification of the court’s order. “Whether these orders are genuine or not. The order will go to the court for verification,” said Nadeem Ahmed Advocate.
Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching links between militants in Pakistan and Richard C Reid, who is also known as the ‘shoe bomber’ for trying to detonate a shoe bomb while on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001.
Pearl’s wife Mariane Pearl, a US national who was living in Karachi’s Zamzama, wrote a letter to the Artillery Maidan police on February 2, 2002, and said that her husband disappeared on January 23, 2002. She said she received an email from the abductors saying that he has been abducted “in retaliation for the imprisonment of Pakistani men by the US government in Cuba and other complaints”.
A graphic video showing Pearl’s decapitation was delivered to the US consulate in Karachi nearly a month after he was kidnapped.
After this, a case was filed against the suspects and 23 witnesses were produced in the case by the prosecution. Sheikh was arrested by Pakistani security agencies in February 2002 and an anti-terrorism court convicted him and others on July 15, 2002.
An investigation, led by Pearl’s friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani and a Georgetown University professor, claimed the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, not Sheikh. Mohammed — better known as KSM — was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Correction: Adil Sheikh’s brother is Sheikh Aslam. An earlier version of this article said he was Omar Sheikh’s brother.