ISLAMABAD – Pakistan is scrambling to manage the fallout from a decision by the country's Supreme Court to free the Pakistani-British man accused in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The Sindh provincial government on Friday filed a review petition, asking the same court to revisit its decision.
But even the lawyer for the Pearl family has said a review petition has a slim chance of succeeding because it is heard by the same judges who voted to free Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh. The case appears to have fallen apart because of the contradictory evidence produced during Sheikh's original trial in 2002 and the decision by the prosecution at the time to try him and three other accused co-conspirators together. According to the Pearl family lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, this means that doubt about the guilt of one translates into a doubt about all.
Washington has expressed outrage, promising to pursue extradition of Sheikh on two separate U.S. indictments against him. For its part, Pakistan's government has thrown up every legal hurdle it could to keep Sheikh in jail following his acquittal last April by a lower court.
WHAT LEGAL OPTIONS REMAIN FOR PAKISTAN?
The provincial Sindh government has taken the last remaining legal step by filing a review petition Friday with the Supreme Court. It's unlikely to change the outcome, but it could give the provincial government legal cover to keep Sheikh in jail in the port city of Karachi, the capital of the southern Sindh province.
Defying the Supreme Court order to free Sheikh could again leave the Sindh government facing contempt charges. It already defended itself against earlier charges of contempt for previously refusing to release him, ignoring an order from a lower court.
Pakistan also might consider charging him in connection with allegations that he possessed nine different SIM cards for phones he used to contact friends, including some in Britain, in 2009 while on death row. There have been suggestions in the local media in Pakistan that he used the SIM cards to call for assistance to break him out of the Hyderabad jail where he'd been on death row since his 2002 conviction. He was moved to a Karachi jail after his April acquittal.