Karachi: The Pakistan government will challenge in the Supreme Court a lower court verdict that overturned the death sentence of the prime accused and acquitted three others in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Saturday.
The Sindh High Court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of the prime accused and top al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to seven years in jail and acquitted the three others - Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil- serving life sentences in the case.
The US has termed the Pakistani court verdict an "affront" to the victims of terrorism everywhere. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the country will not forget Daniel Pearl and we continue to honour his legacy as a courageous journalist and demand justice for his brutal murder."
Amidst mounting pressure, the Sindh provincial government on Friday invoked the Maintenance of Public Order to keep Sheikh in jail.
According to a notification issued by the Sindh Home Ministry, the release of Sheikh and his three associates could jeopardise the law and order situation in the province, thus necessitating their continued detention.
Qureshi said that the US government's apprehensions in the case were only "natural", the Dawn newspaper reported.
"Yesterday, the Sindh government had ordered the detention of the four suspects for 90 days under the Public Safety Act," Qureshi said, while adding that the decision to appeal against the high court verdict had already been taken.
"The forum of appeal exists, we are going to use it and then see if higher courts decide to keep the SHC's decision intact or set it aside," he said.
On Friday, Pakistan's Ministry of Interior said that the government of Sindh decided to file an appeal next week against the judgment in the Supreme Court. "The government of Pakistan has asked the Sindh government to dedicate its best resources in the pursuance of appeal before the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, it said, adding that the provincial government was advised to consult Attorney General for Pakistan in the matter.
According to a report in The Express Tribune, Qureshi said that the accused had a right to appeal and the Sindh High Court while acknowledging this right, suspended their sentence pronounced by the anti-terrorism court in Hyderabad, setting all the three accused free and commuting Sheikh's capital punishment into seven-year imprisonment.
This decision caused the reservations, he said, referring to the US government's reaction to the verdict. The US National Security Council too condemned the court verdict. Pearl, the 38-year-old WSJ's South Asia bureau chief, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story on the alleged links between the country's powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.
Sheikh, who was the mastermind behind abduction and killing of Pearl, was arrested from Lahore in February 2002 and sentenced to death five months later by an anti-terrorism court.