On Thursday, the Sindh High Court (SHC) set aside the detention orders of the provincial government for four men set free by the SHC’s order some eight months earlier in the abduction and murder case of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
Their titles, however, were put on the no-fly list and once summoned, they were often ordered to appear before the court.
After hearing long arguments from both sides, the bench issued the order and noted that the provincial authorities were unable to produce justified reasons for the continued detention of the petitioners-Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil-who had moved the court against their persistent detention by their counsel since their release order in April.
A two-judge bench headed by Justice K. K. Agha during today’s hearing ordered security agencies not to hold Sheikh and others accused under “any sort of detention” and ruled “null and void” all notices from the Sindh government pertaining to their detention.
The provincial government has placed them under 90-day imprisonment under the Preservation of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance since their acquittal on charges of murder by the high court in April. A new order under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was issued on July 1, to prolong their detention by three months and to extend their detention by another 90 days afterwards.
The SHC expressed severe anger last month over the continued detention of the four men by the provincial authorities.
The court noted at today’s trial that the men’s incarceration was “illegal” because, despite being innocent, they were in prison.
Daniel Pearl, 38, a Wall Street Journalist employed in Pakistan, was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while conducting a report on religious extremism. Later, a gruesome video of his decapitation was sent to the US Consulate after a month of his abduction. Sheikh, the prime suspect, was eventually arrested in 2002 and later sentenced to death by an anti-terrorist court in Hyderabad, while the other three men were sentenced to life imprisonment for aiding him.
But on April 2 of this year, Sheikh’s sentence was amended by the SHC to seven years after acquitting him of the journalist’s murder and convicting him of merely playing a part in the abduction. The three remaining prisoners were all convicted by the supreme court.
Sheikh, who, after being sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism judge, has already spent 18 years in jail on death row, was due to be released after the high court decision as his seven-year term was to be counted as time already served.
In the Supreme Court, the Sindh government as well as Pearl’s parents lodged separate appeals against the SHC’s decision. Presently, the supreme court is in the process of hearing these petitions.
The Supreme Court had briefly stopped Sindh authorities from freeing the men earlier in the year when it began to hear arguments on the appeals. It was an interim ruling, though, which concluded on the next day of the hearing. There is currently no order by the supreme court barring the release of the citizens.