News

January 28, 2021

Pakistani supreme court acquits main suspect in Daniel Pearl murder

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (right) was acquited by the Pakistani supreme court regarding US journalist Daniel Pearl (left)’s abduction and macabre murder in 2002 left (photos: archives - Aamir Qureshi / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the Pakistani supreme court’s decision this morning to acquit Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the mastermind of US journalist Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder in 2002, and to order his immediate release. This is a shocking denial of justice, RSF said.

Nineteen years after Daniel Pearl was abducted and beheaded, the impunity in this case is total. The court also ordered the immediate release of three of Sheikh’s accomplices – Salman Saquib, Fahad Nasim and Sheikh Adil – although they were sentenced to life imprisonment in July 2002 after claiming responsibility for Pearl’s abduction.

 

A week before the release of a video showing Pearl being beheaded, Sheikh had boasted of orchestrating his abduction during an appearance before a court in Karachi.

 

“The supreme court’s decision to release Ahmed Sheikh and his accomplices is an extremely shocking denial of justice for the Pearl family and for all journalists working in Pakistan,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This acquittal will remain as a symbol of the absolute impunity surrounding crimes of violence against journalists in this country.”

 

Macabre video

 

Today’s supreme court ruling was in response to an appeal by the Pearl family and the government of Sindh province – where the original trial was held – against last April’s Sindh high court decision to commute Sheikh’s sentence to seven years prison. As Sheikh had already been held for 18 years, this decision, which RSF firmly condemned at the time, meant that he would be released.

 

The Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, Pearl disappeared in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, on 23 January 2002. A video sent to the US consulate in Karachi a month after his abduction showed Pearl’s captors cutting his throat and then severing his head. The remains of his mutilated body were found weeks later.

 

Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.