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Appeal Filed for 3 Convicted in Pearl Case

Pakistan: Key evidence presented against the men is false, the defense lawyer says. The ringleader plans his own appeal this week.

July 18, 2002|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KARACHI, Pakistan — Three men sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl launched an appeal Wednesday, claiming that key evidence against them is false.

Convicted ringleader Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death by hanging, plans to file a separate appeal with the Sindh province High Court by the end of the week, defense lawyer Rai Bashir said.

All four convictions "are illegal, against the law and against the evidence which is on file," Bashir said after filing a six-page appeal on behalf of Sheikh's accomplices, Salman Saquib, Fahad Naseem and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel.

Their appeal came a day after prosecutor Raja Qureshi asked the High Court to increase the penalty from life, which in Pakistan carries a maximum of 25 years in prison, to death by hanging.

The appeals could go to the nation's Supreme Court and take many months to exhaust. But Qureshi predicted in an earlier interview that judges wouldn't allow the process to drag on too long and said the terrorism convictions would be upheld.

The defense charged that Judge Syed Ali Ashraf Shah, who presided over the closed trial in a heavily guarded jail courtroom, reached his verdict under orders from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

"After reading the judgment, I've come to the conclusion it was not written by the judge but [by] a bureaucrat," Bashir said.

'Sense of Fear'

Shah found all four men guilty of kidnapping and murdering Pearl, former South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, and said they wanted to create a "sense of fear nationally, [and] insecurity nationally and internationally."

"The minor discrepancies pointed out in evidence ... did not hit or touch the root of the case," the judge wrote in his 54-page verdict Monday.

The prosecution called 23 witnesses, including an FBI computer expert who examined a laptop he said was used to e-mail ransom notes, which included photos of Pearl in captivity.

Sheikh, a British-born Islamic extremist who once confessed to kidnapping an American and three British tourists in India in 1994, called only two character witnesses: his father, Saeed Ahmad Sheikh, who is a wealthy businessman in London, and uncle Rauf Ahmad Sheikh, a Pakistani judge.

Shah accepted evidence that the ransom notes were transmitted on Naseem's Internet account and that police found the original, handwritten messages in Urdu and English at his home.

He also concluded that handwriting expert Ghulam Akbar Jafferi had proved that Adeel wrote the Urdu ransom notes and that Sheikh penned the English version.

Saquib was with Naseem when they bought the Polaroid camera and computer scanner used to create the e-mailed photos of Pearl, the judge found.

Police are still looking for seven other suspects in the kidnapping and murder of Pearl, who disappeared Jan. 23.

Pearl was researching a story on Richard C. Reid, a Briton who was arrested in December after allegedly trying to set off explosives in his sneakers on an airliner flying from Paris to Miami.

Appeal Faults Judge

In their appeal, Sheikh's accomplices accused the judge of ignoring any evidence that contradicted the prosecution's case.

The only evidence against Adeel is the alleged ransom note in Urdu, which "was not corroborated by any other piece of evidence," Bashir wrote in the appeal notice. And Jafferi admitted in court that he had no training in handwriting analysis, the lawyer added.

The only two pieces of evidence against Saquib, alleged confessions by him and Naseem, were made under police pressure after a long period in custody and were later retracted, according to the appeal.

A laptop computer, scanner, computer disk and Urdu and English ransom notes that police say they found Feb. 11 in Naseem's Karachi apartment were inadmissible for several reasons, including discrepancies in serial numbers, Bashir argued.

FBI agent Ronald Joseph testified that the laptop was used Feb. 2-4, "while the prosecution case is that the abductor sent the e-mail on Jan. 27 and Jan. 30," according to the appeal.

Also, Pakistan's Interior Ministry and the investigating police officer admitted that Naseem didn't live at the address where police found the computer equipment and notes, but with his parents, Bashir wrote.

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