Omar Saeed Sheikh. (AFP File)
Omar Saeed Sheikh. (AFP File)

Pakistan SC orders Omar Saeed Sheikh to be moved to govt rest house

The Supreme Court’s order to free Sheikh has been criticised by India and the US. The external affairs ministry’s spokesperson described it as a “travesty of justice” and said it reflected the “lack of any seriousness on the part of Pakistan on taking action on terror-related issues”
UPDATED ON FEB 02, 2021 05:28 PM IST

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday directed authorities to move Omar Saeed Sheikh, one of three terrorists released by India in 1999 in exchange for a hijacked airliner, from his death row cell to a government rest house within two days.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial issued the directive when it resumed hearing the Sindh provincial government’s review petition opposing the court’s earlier order of January 28 to release Sheikh and three other men convicted of the abduction and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

The Supreme Court said proper security arrangements should be put in place at the rest house and Sheikh should not be granted access to mobile phones, the internet or the outside world. It also said Sheikh’s family should be allowed to visit him at the rest house from 8am to 5pm and that he should be permitted to spend Kashmir Day with relatives, according to reports in the Pakistani media.

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Pakistan observes Kashmir Day on February 5 every year as a show of support for separatists in the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Supreme Court’s order to free Sheikh has been criticised by India and the US. The external affairs ministry’s spokesperson described it as a “travesty of justice” and said it reflected the “lack of any seriousness on the part of Pakistan on taking action on terror-related issues”.

The matter was the focus of US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s introductory phone call to Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on January 29. Blinken discussed how to “ensure accountability for convicted terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh” and the US also called on Pakistan to hand over Sheikh so that he could be prosecuted in America.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is currently hearing the Sindh government’s appeal against its recent order upholding the Sindh high court’s order of December 24 to free Sheikh and the three other convicts. Sheikh is being held in a prison in Sindh province.

The Supreme Court again rejected the appeal to suspend the Sindh high court’s order acquitting Sheikh, after Sindh’s advocate general told the bench that Sheikh could escape after his release. The advocate general also said Sheikh was a “mastermind of terrorists” and his accomplices could attack the rest house and help him flee.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, a member of the bench, asked whether the court should justify what he described as illegal detention. “Is it necessary to keep the accused in jail to prevent them from escaping?” asked Justice Umar Ata Bandial, according to a report by Dawn newspaper.

The Supreme Court subsequently adjourned the case indefinitely.

Sheikh, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, was a key suspect in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl. Pearl, 38, was South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching links between Pakitani militants and Richard C Reid, known as the “shoe bomber” for trying to detonate a bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001.

It is believed Sheikh played a key role in luring Pearl to Karachi, where he was killed by his captors.

Sheikh was arrested in India in 1994 and imprisoned over the kidnapping of one American and three British tourists. He was freed with Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) founder Masood Azhar and terrorist Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar in exchange for passengers of Indian Airlines flight IC-814, which was hijacked by a group of Pakistani terrorists from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1999.

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