The gruesome murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 had shocked the world and sparked outrage. After nearly two decades, the Supreme Court has acquitted the main suspects and ordered their immediate bringing the case back into the spotlight.
Daniel Pearl was investigating the link between religious extremism with security agencies in Karachi when he went missing and was found dead. A gruesome video of his beheading was filmed and sent to the US consulate. The prime suspect in the case Saeed Ahmed Omar Shaikh, also known as Shaikh Omar, was eventually arrested and sentenced to death. He chose not to defend himself but appealed in court and spent nearly twenty years on death row.
In April 2020, the Sindh High Court acquitted him and three other suspects in the high-profile murder case, leaving the provincial government in a frenzy as it moved the apex court. The Supreme Court upheld the acquittal and ordered his release. The court did not accept sensitive information that Shaikh Omar was a well-known militant with proven links to terrorist outfits.
The verdict has revived the case in public eye as it is often considered the defining moment for the rise of terrorism in Pakistan. British-born Sheikh Omar studied at the prestigious LSE before he joined a militant group and moved to Pakistan. In 1994, he was arrested and jailed in India for involvement in the kidnapping of foreign tourists. In 1999, a Delhi-bound Indian Airlines plane was hijacked in Nepal and flown to Kandahar which was under Taliban control. The hijackers demanded the release of three men including Sheikh Omar who eventually returned to Pakistan.
The acquittal of the suspects has brought the Daniel Pear murder case back to where he stands. Sheikh Omar had accepted having a minor role in the incident but the evidence was not presented in court. The verdict also speaks about the state of prosecution in our judicial system. The United States has expressed outrage and wants to conduct Shaikh Omar’s trial but the courts are oblivious of the consequences of setting free a man like him.
The global pressure has led to last ditch efforts to stop him from stepping foot outside prison. Pakistan is currently on the FATF’s greylist on terror financing and has a fractious relationship regarding terrorist outfits. The verdict is being seen as a travesty of justice as the killers of Daniel Pearl are still at large and has worsened Pakistan’s perception regarding rule of law.