The Sindh High Court has commuted the death sentences of the main person accused in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and acquitted three co-accused in the matter, two lawyers told Reuters on Thursday.
At least four people were convicted in connection with Pearl’s murder, including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for masterminding the murder. He has been in jail for 18 years awaiting the outcome of an appeal.
“The court has commuted Omar’s death sentence to a seven year sentence,” Khawaja Naveed, the defence lawyer said. “The murder charges were not proven, so he has given seven years for the kidnapping.”
“Omar has already served 18 years, so his release orders will be issued sometime today. He will be out in a few days,” Naveed said.
A two-member bench issued the order on Thursday, Naveed said, adding that the three others, who had been serving life-sentences in connection with the case, had been acquitted.
Pearl, a US national and the South Asian region bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal was kidnapped on January 23, 2002, in Karachi and later beheaded by his captors when their demands were not met.
The main convict, Ahmad Omer Sheikh, was sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing the journalist, and his three accomplices, Fahad Naseem, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil, were sentenced to life imprisonment with a fine of Rs500,000 each by a Hyderabad anti-terrorism court on July 15, 2002.
The lawyers for the four men contended that the prosecution had failed to provide enough evidence to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that their clients participated or abetted in the crime.
The court had also directed the convicts to pay Rs2 million to the victim’s widow, Marianne Pearl. The convicts had filed appeals in the high court on July 19, 2002, pleading to nullify their sentences and conviction. The state had also filed an appeal seeking enhancement of the three co-accused’s life terms to capital punishment.
In 2014, an anti-terrorism court had acquitted Qari Hashim, a co-accused in the case due to a lack of evidence.
The same year, Sheikh allegedly attempted suicide in his prison cell by hanging himself with a cloth from the ventilator. The then deputy jail superintendent Majid Akhtar had told The Express Tribune that the prison staff thwarted his attempt.
In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University following an investigation into his death made chilling revelations when it claimed that the wrong men were convicted for Pearl’s murder.__Tribune.com