Pakistan, UK to sign prisoner exchange deal ‘shortly’

In this file photo, a Pakistani policeman closes the main gate of the Adiala Jail, in Rawalpindi, Nov. 17, 2006. (AFP)
Updated 12 December 2018

Pakistan, UK to sign prisoner exchange deal ‘shortly’

  • Islamabad hopes to finalize treaty by March
  • British parliamentarians fear it will be abused to repatriate political dissidents

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and United Kingdom on Tuesday expressed “satisfaction” over the legalities of the protocol pertaining to the exchange and transfer of prisoners between both the countries, hoping that the deal “would be signed shortly” – a development for which Islamabad has been trying to convince the British government for long.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, discussed this and a host of other issues over a telephone call.
“The two foreign ministers discussed a wide range of regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest and expressed satisfaction at the current state of relations,” a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs read.
Pakistan also appreciated the expanded bilateral cooperation and stressed that the UK was an important trade and investment partner for the South Asian nation. “Brexit would open new opportunities for trade and development between the two countries,” Qureshi said.
The two foreign ministers agreed to hold the fourth round of talks as part of the Pakistan-UK Enhanced Strategic Dialogue in the first quarter of 2019 in London.
According to the statement, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to enhance bilateral cooperation, particularly in the spheres of “regional security, counter-terrorism, organized crime, money-laundering and asset recovery.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has been trying to sign bilateral treaties with the UK and other countries in its pursuit to fight corruption and recover looted money stashed abroad.
As part of the effort, Pakistan’s federal cabinet last month approved plans to renew a prisoner exchange program with the UK and Northern Ireland. The Prisoner Exchange Treaty was part of an understanding reached between the two countries in September this year during British Home Secretary Sajid Javed’s visit to Islamabad.
Masroor Shah, a senior lawyer and expert on international law, said that the prisoner exchange treaty is a welcome move as this would help both the countries swap prisoners on “humanitarian grounds.”
“The treaty is also a tool of bilateral cooperation and this will help open other avenues of collaboration between both the countries,” he told Arab News. “The treaty will help facilitate the fair treatment and social rehabilitation of prisoners in their native countries.”
Shah, however, clarified that the deal is not equivalent to an extradition treaty. “Pakistan and UK does not have a formal extradition treaty, but even then Pakistan has extradited at least two persons so far to the UK through a bilateral arrangement,” he added.
He said that Pakistan’s anti-corruption institutions would not be able to bring back the wanted individuals residing in England in the absence of an extradition treaty.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Mirza Shahzad Akbar told Arab News earlier this week that a bilateral treaty would be ratified with the UK in the coming months, besides enacting a Mutual Legal Assistance law to obtain evidence from foreign jurisdictions about financial crimes and corruption.
“We are also hopeful to sign an extradition treaty with the UK by March next year,” he said.
Tahir Malik, an expert on international affairs, expressed skepticism over Pakistan’s claim of signing the extradition treaty with the UK by March, saying that British parliamentarians and the civil society have repeatedly expressed concerns over Islamabad’s human rights record and treatment being meted out to religious minorities.
“UK parliamentarians fear that the extradition treaty, once signed with Pakistan, will be abused by seeking expatriation of political dissidents,” he told Arab News. “Until Islamabad addresses the legitimate human rights’ concerns of the international community, an extradition treaty with the UK won’t be possible.”

Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

Updated 15 January 2021

Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

  • Faisal Siddiqi says overturning even the kidnapping for ransom charge will send Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh back to death row
  • Sheikh, who allegedly lured Pearl to his death, was acquitted in April due to insufficient evidence

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani lawyer for the family of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl faces an uphill battle to overturn the acquittal of a British-born man convicted in the 2002 murder.

That's because the prosecutor in the original case tried all four men — including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man believed to have lured Pearl to his death — as one, with the same charges against all even though each played a different role.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Faisal Siddiqi, the lawyer for Pearl’s family, said that although the initial prosecution had painted the four defendants with the same brush, “You don’t, because of doubt in one or two or three pieces (of evidence), acquit them all.”

The four men were acquitted in April on the grounds that the initial prosecution’s evidence was insufficient. Siddiqi said his argument now before the Supreme Court, Pakistan's highest, is that conspiracy, kidnapping for ransom and murder deserve separate consideration.

Siddiqi said the Supreme Court hearing to overturn the acquittals will resume Tuesday, and most likely reach its conclusion before the end of January. Both the Pearl family as well as Pakistan’s government separately have appealed the acquittals.

Siddiqi said overturning even the kidnapping for ransom charge would send Sheikh back to death row, where he'd been since his conviction in 2002. He was transferred to a jail in the port city of Karachi in Sindh province, after the Sindh High Court overturned his conviction. The three others charged in Pearl's murder — Fahad Naseem, Adil Sheikh and Salman Saqib — were acquitted on all charges.

Sheikh was sentenced to death, and the other three to life in prison for their roles in Pearl's murder.

Siddiqi said he’s argued that the judges have a duty to both the accused and the victim, and while “no innocent person should be convicted ... no guilty person should be set free.”

The Pearl family’s lawyer said the overwhelming sentiment is “whenever there is a doubt, let us free the accused, never thinking what happened to the victim,” adding that he's asking the judges to “restore the balance between the accused and the victim.”

The acquittal outraged the United States, and last month the US warned it won’t allow Sheikh to escape justice. Acting US Attorney General Jeffery Rosen praised Pakistan for appealing the Sindh court’s order but said if “those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial” in America.

Sheikh remains in jail even as the Sindh High Court last month ordered him freed while the appeal is being heard. Sheikh's lawyer, Mehmood A. Sheikh, no relation, has taken the demand for his client's freedom to the Supreme Court. Until now it has not ruled on the release.

Siddiqi said the prosecutor in Sheikh's original trial was held under considerable duress caused by militant Islamists, who issued threats to the attorney general, and which even forced the court hearing to be held within the confines of the jail.

Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi, where he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

A gruesome video of Pearl’s beheading was sent to the US Consulate. The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter from Encino, California was abducted Jan. 23, 2002.