Contempt plea filed against the government in Pearl case

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Thursday issued notices to the provincial and jail authorities on a petition seeking contempt proceedings against them for not releasing four men after their conviction order was set aside in the abduction and murder case of US journalist Daniel Pearl.

Petitioners Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil through their lawyers contended that the SHC had set aside the conviction order of a trial court in April and last week the high court had also declared the preventive detention orders of the provincial government illegal and ordered the jail authorities to release them.

The counsel said they had approached senior officials of central prisons of Karachi and Sukkur on Dec 24 since Adil had been detained in Sukkur and three others in Karachi. They said certified copies of the court order were provided to the jail officials for the release of the petitioners, but they insisted on verification of the order from the SHC. On Dec 26, the verification of order was also provided to the jail administration by the SHC, but they refused to set them free.

The counsel said as per the senior jail officials, they were instructed by the Sindh chief secretary and additional chief secretary home not to release the petitioners.

They argued that the Dec 24 SHC order was still in field and the respondents had willfully defied it. They requested the court to summon the respondents and initiate contempt proceedings against them.

A two-judge SHC bench headed by Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh issued notices to the respondents and directed them to file comments by Jan 7.

On Dec 24, a division bench of the SHC had struck down the preventive detention order issued by the provincial authorities to continuously keep the petitioners behind bars despite their release orders issued in April after their conviction order was set aside.

The SHC had ruled that the detention order was issued without lawful authority and in violation of several provisions of the Constitution and directed the jail authorities to release them immediately if they were not wanted in any other custody case or any order against their release passed by the Supreme Court. However, it had directed the federal authorities to put the petitioners on no-fly list till a decision by the apex court on the appeals filed by the provincial government and parents of the slain journalist against the SHC order.

In April, the SHC had acquitted all the appellants of charges of murder and kidnapping for ransom and only found main accused Ahmed Omar Sheikh guilty of abducting the slain journalist and sentenced him to seven-year imprisonment. However, the sentence had been completed as the convict had already spent around 18 years in detention.

An antiterrorism court in Hyderabad had sentenced British-born Omar Sheikh to death in 2002 for murder and kidnapping of the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal for ransom and awarded life term to co-accused for helping the main convict.

SC restraining order

The Sindh advocate general office has reminded the provincial government that the Sept 28 Supreme Court directive is still in the field in which a restraining order was issued against releasing principal accused Ahmed Omar Sheikh.

A source privy to the development told Dawn in Islamabad that in his Dec 29 opinion to the Sindh government, Advocate General Salman Talibuddin had stated that the Sept 28 SC order that the principal accused should not be released from prison till the next date of hearing had not been expressly vacated or varied by the Supreme Court and thus continued to be in force.

The opinion was sought by the Sindh government on Dec 28 against the backdrop of the Dec 24 SHC decision to release Omar Sheikh and other accused persons.

The source was of the opinion that the directives of superior courts usually held the field unless expressly passed to vacate the same.

Nasir Iqbal in Islamabad contributed to this report

Newspaper: Dawn