The Overturned Conviction for Daniel Pearl’s Murder, and Where to Place Blame in Pakistan

Note: This article was originally published by Dr. Alfonse Javed in Providence Magazine on May 3, 2021. 

Earlier this year, the Pakistani supreme court overturned the conviction of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Pakistani British national who was sentenced to death by hanging for the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. The international community is in shock at the seeming injustice of letting such a murderer go free. As a result, Pakistan has faced sharp criticism, no less because the developing nation is currently on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list in connection to terror financing. However, this criticism might be misplaced as Pakistan is currently working hard to improve the functioning of due process and rule of law from within. Instead, if the world has to be critical of something, it should be directed at the religious curriculum in Pakistan and other Muslim nations that promotes religion-based hate.

The Pearl Family Reaction

While the details of the court’s acquittal of Sheikh are still forthcoming, according to defense lawyers the original death sentence was based upon insufficient evidence. In other words, the police and the investigators were not able to build a solid case against Sheikh and his accomplices. Ruth and Judea Pearl, the parents of the victim, reacted to the court’s decision in a written statement: “It is beyond belief that Ahmed Omar Sheikh—who, after 18 years of lies, had finally admitted in a handwritten letter to the court his role in the kidnapping for ransom of Daniel Pearl—has been given a clean slate and let loose once again upon the world to continue his international terrorist activities.”

For now, Sheikh has been exonerated over the murder of Pearl, but this is not the end of the Pearl case by any means. Outlining the first step toward complete freedom, Justice Omar Ata Bandyal, one of the three judges who reviewed Sheikh’s case, said, “He should be moved to a comfortable residential environment, something like a rest house where he can live a normal life.”

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