Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

Faisal Siddiqi, center, a lawyer for the family of Daniel Pearl, an American reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan, leaves after an appeal hearing in the case, at the Supreme Court, in Islamabad on Oct. 22, 2020. (AP/File)
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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.


Pakistani doctors warn of third COVID-19 wave after restrictions relaxed

Updated 07 March 2021

Pakistani doctors warn of third COVID-19 wave after restrictions relaxed

  • Pakistan on Sunday saw the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in one month
  • Authorities relaxed most of coronavirus-related restrictions last week

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions may lead to a third coronavirus wave, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) warned on Sunday as infection figures are surging again.

Pakistan reported 1,780 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in over a month, health ministry data showed on Sunday. The total number of infections rose to 590,508, with 13,205 deaths.

The increase in COVID-19 cases comes after the National Command and Operation Center, which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, on Feb. 24 eased most of virus-related restrictions, allowing commercial activities and workplaces to function at full strength. Regular five-day classes restarted at schools from March 1.

"This could lead, god forbid, to a third wave of COVID-19 in the country,” PMA secretary general Dr. Qaiser Sajjad told Arab News.

He added that the decision to lift the restrictions now was too hasty and should take place after most Pakistanis have been vaccinated.

"We suggested that after vaccination of at least 70 percent of the population, (the government) could start lifting restrictions."

The country of 220 million is however short of reaching the suggested vaccination rate.  

Pakistan began its COVID-19 vaccination program last month with 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. Healthcare workers are being vaccinated in the first phase of the drive. Only 230,000 frontline health workers had received a shot so far.

The vaccination of citizens above the age of 60 is going to start on March 10, Planning Minister Asad Umar announced in a tweet on Sunday.

He added that more details would be shared on Monday.

https://twitter.com/Asad_Umar/status/1368488610350137344?s=20

About 5.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines are expected to arrive by the end of March.

Pakistan has so far approved China’s Sinopharm and CanSinoBIO vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University and Russia’s Sputnik V for emergency use.
 


Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy personnel in ambush 

Updated 07 March 2021

Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy personnel in ambush 

  • Insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack
  • Attack came a day after a roadside bomb went off between in Balochistan, killing two

QUETTA: Gunmen ambushed a vehicle transporting security forces killing a sailor and wounding two others in the coastal town of Jewni in southwest Pakistan, officials said Sunday.

The Pakistan Navy vehicle came under attack Saturday evening while traveling from Jewni to the Ganz area, said Zahoor Buledi, a Balochistan provincial minister.

The insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two intelligence officials confirmed the minister’s account, saying unidentified attackers opened fire with automatic weapons on the vehicle, which was also carrying Quick Response Force troops.

The attack came a day after five laborers were killed and five others, including two security personnel, were wounded when a roadside bomb went off between the towns of Sibi and Harnai in the same province.

Intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under policy, said a sailor was fatally shot while a barber and another sailor were critically wounded during an exchange of fire with the attackers.

Balochistan Liberation Army spokesman, Azad Baluch, in a message to reporters, said the group killed four Navy officers and wounded two others.

Buledi, the provincial minister, condemned the attack saying the insurgents were trying to demoralize security forces operating against them.

Officials said soon after the incident, security forces rushed to the scene and surrounded the area to try and locate the attackers.

Local administrator Athar Abbas said the body of the sailor and the wounded were shifted to the town hospital and there they were moved to Karachi.

Balochistan has been the locale of a long-running insurgency by Baloch separatist groups who want independence for the mineral and gas rich province that borders Iran and Afghanistan.
 


Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

Updated 07 March 2021

Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

  • Senate approved Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 on Feb. 1
  • The bill makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the federal capital

ISLAMABAD: Nearly 90 percent of Pakistanis are in favor of a senate bill that makes Arabic classes compulsory at school, a recent survey shows.

Pakistan’s upper house of parliament last month approved the Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 which makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the capital, Islamabad.

“Eighty-nine percent Pakistanis said that they are in favor of the approval of a Senate bill that calls for Arabic to be a mandatory part of the syllabus in educational institutions,” Gallup & Gilani Pakistan said in the study released on Friday.

The study was carried out on a sample of 1,503 men and women in urban and rural areas of 100 districts of all four provinces of Pakistan between Feb. 6 and Feb. 27.

To become law, the senate bill on Arabic teaching now requires approval by the National Assembly.

The lawmaker who presented the bill, opposition senator Javed Abbasi, argued that a command of Arabic, the official language of over 25 countries, would open up more job opportunities for Pakistanis in the Middle East, leading to lower unemployment and increased remittances.


Pakistan Air Force offers support, training to Sri Lankan military

Updated 8 min 58 sec ago

Pakistan Air Force offers support, training to Sri Lankan military

  • Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan earlier this week met Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and top military officials in Colombo
  • Pakistan last month offered a $50 million credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defense and security  

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief has offered support to and agreed to strengthen cooperation with the Sri Lankan military, PAF said on Saturday.

Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan arrived in Colombo on Thursday, where he met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and top military officials.

As Marshal Khan lauded the efforts of Sri Lankan Armed Forces in their fight against terrorism during a meeting with Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, he offered Pakistan's support and cooperation, PAF said in a statement.


In this photo released by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on March 6, 2021, Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan meets Sri Lanka Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne in Colombo. (Photo courtesy: PAF)

"The leaders agreed to further enhance bilateral cooperation especially in training and professional enhancement programs," PAF said, adding that Gen. Gunaratne welcomed the Pakistani air chief's visit as "manifestation of the strong bond between the Armed Forces of both the countries, especially the two Air Forces."

The Pakistani air chief's visit follows Prime Minister Imran Khan's official visit in late February, during which Pakistan offered a $50 million new credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defense and security.


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Updated 07 March 2021

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

  • Accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province
  • Eight cars of the 18-car train from Karachi to Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch

MULTAN: Eight cars of a Lahore-bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.

The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.

Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.

Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.

Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.