News

April 2, 2020 - Updated on April 23, 2020

Denial of justice for Daniel Pearl’s murder

Daniel Pearl’s murder was a shock to the world. A Memorial Day mural project was created in May 2015 near his old neighbourhood in Los Angeles, California (photo: Mark Ralston / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s incoherent decision by a court in Karachi, in southern Pakistan, commuting the death sentence passed on the mastermind of US reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder to seven years in prison. The ruling is a shocking symbol of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists, RSF said.

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Update

The four individuals who benefitted from the Karachi court’s decision on 2 April – commuting the death sentence of one and acquitting the other three – were rearrested the next day and will remain in detention pending the outcome of the prosecution’s appeal against this decision to the supreme court.

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As Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the mastermind of  Daniel Pearl’s 2002 murder, has been imprisoned for the past 18 years, the seven-year sentence means he may be now be released.

 

The Sindh province high court in Karachi issued this decision in response to the appeal that Sheikh originally filed in 2002. The court acquitted three other persons who were originally sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in Pearl’s abduction and murder.

 

While RSF is totally opposed to capital punishment, we deeply regret this incoherent decision by the judges in Karachi,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It recognizes Sheikh’s guilt while in effect overturning his conviction. This is a shocking denial of justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and will stand as a symbol of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in Pakistan.”


"This decision by the Sindh high court in Karachi sends the message that Pakistan's courts do not uphold the rule of law," said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. "The fact that the perpetrator of one of the most gruesome crimes committed against a journalist may simply be set free by a court should give the international community pause about whether the government of Pakistan can be relied on to administer justice."


Macabre beheading video

 

The Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, Pearl was investigating Islamist activity in Karachi when he disappeared on 23 January 2002. His abduction was claimed by a previously unknown group that demanded the release of Pakistani citizens captured by the US military in Afghanistan.

 

A month after his abduction, a video was sent to the US consulate in Karachi that showed Pearl’s captors cutting his throat and then severing his head.

 

Sheikh, who was brought up in London and has British as well as Pakistani citizenship, admitted at an initial court hearing after his arrest that he masterminded Pearl’s abduction and murder.

 

Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.