Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh be released from prison and moved to a government “safe house”. The Pakistani-British man had been on death row for 18 years for his alleged role in the kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 by Al Qaeda and Pakistani Islamist militants.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench directed authorities to release Sheikh and three co-defendants. Defense lawyers argued Sheikh was a scapegoat and sentenced on insufficient evidence. A day later, Pakistan’s government appealed to the court to review its decision. But the review panel on Tuesday stood by the Supreme Court ruling.
Justice Omar Ata Bandyal, who headed the review panel said, “He should be moved to a comfortable residential environment, something like a rest house where he can live a normal life”. In the government-run safe house, Sheikh will be under a 24-hour guard, often by military personnel. He will not be allowed to leave the house, use the phone or access the internet. But his wife and children can visit him.
Locations of such safe houses are usually kept secret. Pakistan’s security establishment has several such facilities across the country. “It is not a complete freedom. It is a step toward freedom”, the prisoner’s father, Saeed Sheikh said. The terms of Sheikh’s release will become clearer once a written order is made public. Sheikh has spent more than 18 years in prison for the crimes.
The earlier ruling triggered outrage from Pearl’s family and the US administration. State Secretary Antony Blinken said that Washington is ready to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen. Blinken further said that the US is committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists accountable.