Islamabad, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday suspended the release of the main accused in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, agreeing to hear appeals against the man’s acquittal by a lower court.
A three-member of the apex court temporarily stayed the release of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the main accused, and three of his accomplices, who were charged with kidnapping and murdering Pearl – who worked for the Wall Street Journal – in a case that grabbed international headlines.
“That the court has accepted our appeals is the first step towards our victory. We are confident that with the evidence that we have, the court will overturn the acquittal (of Sheikh) and put him on death row again,” Fiaz Shah, the prosecutor general for the Sindh province, told EFE.
The decision comes after Pearl’s family and the government of Sindh filed appeals against the Apr. 2 order of the Sindh High Court to commute Sheikh’s death sentence.
Although Sheikh, a British born Islamist, was sentenced to death by a lower court, in April the High Court acquitted him of murder and modified his sentence to seven years in prison, on lesser charges.
The accused has been in jail on death row for about 18 years and was expected to be released soon since the seven-year sentence would be counted as time served.
However, the provincial government ordered his rearrest and has kept him in preventive custody until now despite the High Court decision.
The Sindh prosecutor general said he was confident that “eyewitness evidence, forensic evidence and confessional statement from the accused” will be sufficient for the top court to restore Sheikh’s death sentence.
“There are two appeals in the Supreme Court, one by the Sindh government and one from Pearl’s family which will be heard combined on any date next week,” Shah said.
Pearl, 38, disappeared on Jan. 23, 2002 in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi while he was investigating links between radical Islamic groups in Pakistan and Osama bin Laden`s Al Qaeda terrorist network.
According to Pakistani police, he was decapitated on Feb. 21 by his captors, thought to be members of the Muslim extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammad.
The trial of the four suspected Islamic militants accused of killing Pearl was conducted behind closed doors in Karachi by an anti-terrorist court.
Later that year, Sheikh – a British-born Islamist radical – was sentenced to death for Pearl’s murder, while the three others were sentenced to life imprisonment. EFE-EPA