KARACHI: On Thursday, the provincial authorities argued before the Sindh High Court that four men were not released after their conviction was set aside in the US journalist Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder case, as the Supreme Court had imposed a restraining order.
On 13 January, a divisional bench of the SHC ordered both sides to bring forward arguments after members of the provincial government maintained that a temporary stay order released by the Supreme Court in September against the release of petitioners was still in effect.
Via their attorneys, petitioners Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil moved the SHC to file contempt proceedings against the provincial and prison authorities for not setting them free pending court orders.
They argued that in April the SHC had set aside the conviction order of a trial court, and last month the high court also ruled unconstitutional the protective detention orders given by the provincial government to hold them behind bars and ordered them to be released by the prison authorities.
AG Sindh says SC restraining order against release of petitioners still in the field
When the case came before a two-judge bench led by Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro, Advocate General Sindh Salman Talibuddin, Sindh Home Department Secretary and senior prison officials appeared.
The provincial law officer argued that the SC was hearing the appeals filed against the SHC order to set aside the trial court order by the Sindh government and parents of slain journalist and on Sept 28, before the next hearing, the apex court imposed a restraining order against the release of the petitioners.
He argued, however, that the SC’s restraining order still retained the ground, as the apex court had not specifically vacated or varied it. He further said that the petitions were heard on a day-to-day basis by the supreme court.
Advocate Nadeem Azar told the bench that Mahmood A. Shaikh, the lead lawyer of the petitioners, was busy in SC in connection with the appeals hearing.
The bench ordered the lawyer to produce copies of supreme court orders for the petitioners and also requested both sides to advance their cases at the next hearing on whether or not the apex court restraining order is still in the area.
The counsel argued in the contempt petition that on December 24 they had contacted senior officials of the central prisons of Karachi and Sukkur, as Adil had been detained in Sukkur and three others in Karachi, along with certified copies of the court order for the release of the petitioners, but insisted on the SHC’s order being checked. On December 26, clarification of the order was also issued by the SHC to the prison administration, but they declined to release them.
As per senior prison authorities, the lawyer claimed, they were advised not to free the petitioners by the Sindh chief secretary and the additional chief secretary home.
They claimed that the Dec 24 SHC order was still in effect and that it had been wilfully challenged by the respondents and urged the court to summon the respondents and start proceedings against them for contempt.
On December 24, in violation of their release orders given in April after their conviction order was set aside, the division bench of the SHC struck down the preventive detention order issued by the provincial authorities to hold the petitioners permanently behind bars.
The SHC ruled that the arrest warrant was released without lawful authority and in breach of many provisions of the Constitution and ordered the prison authorities to release them immediately if, in any other situation or in any order passed by the SC against their release, they were not wanted.
It had, however, ordered the federal authorities to place the petitioners on a no-fly list before the apex court’s verdict on the appeals brought against the SHC order by the provincial government and the parents of the slain journalist.
The SHC acquitted all the appellants on charges of murder and abduction for ransom in April and found only the key perpetrator, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, guilty of abducting the murdered journalist and sentenced him to seven years in jail. However, since the defendant had already served about 18 years in prison, the sentence was completed.
An anti-terrorism court in Hyderabad sentenced British-born Omar Sheikh to death in 2002 for the murder and abduction of The Wall Street Journal’s 38-year-old South Asian bureau chief for ransom and awarded the co-accused life term for aiding the key convict.