Pakistan: Supreme Court orders the release of the accused in Daniel Pearl’s murder case; the US says it is prepared to prosecute him “for his horrific crimes against an American citizen”
On 28 January, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s release in Daniel Pearl’s murder case. Omar Sheikh is one of the primary accused in the kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, a journalist working with the Wall Street Journal in 2002.
On 29 January, the Sindh government has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court, asking for a reconsideration of the decision.
On 29 January, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken came down heavily on the release. The Department of State released a statement expressing the US’s deep concerns over “the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit those involved in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder and any proposed action to release them.” The statement also read, “Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh was indicted in the United States in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the murder of Pearl, the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, as well as the 1994 kidnapping of another United States citizen in India. The court’s decision is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan.” More importantly, the statement read: “We take note of the Attorney General’s statement that he intends to seek review and recall of the decision. We are also prepared to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen. We are committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists accountable.”
What is the background?
First, the 19-year-old case relating to the kidnapping and brutal beheading of Daniel Pearl. At the time of the kidnapping and the beheading, Daniel Pearl was working with the Wall Street Journal and was pursuing a story relating to militancy in Pakistan. This was a period in which many journalists from the rest of the world have been pursuing multiple angles over any lead relating to the 9/11 attacks in the US. Daniel Pearl was doing one and was abducted in Karachi in January 2002. Subsequently, he was beheaded on 1 February 2002 in front of a video that demanded prisoners’ release in Guantanamo Bay.
Second, the Sindh High Court’s judgment in April 2020, and the refusal of the Sindh government to release the four accused, including Omar Sheikh. A two-member bench of the Sindh High Court acquitted Omar Sheikh and three others on the murder charge. The Court found the accused guilty of only kidnapping, for which it ordered a seven-year prison sentence. Since the accused were already in jail for more than 17 years at that time, the Sindh High Court ordered the government to release them.
Third, the case in the Supreme Court, following the Sindh government’s refusal to release the accused. And a new petition by Daniel Pearl’s parents; in May 2020, they appealed to the Supreme Court against the Sindh High Court’s decision and made a plea for a common cause demanding justice: “We are standing up for justice not only for our son, but for all our dear friends in Pakistan so they can live in a society free of violence and terror and raise their children in peace and harmony.”
Fourth, the new US administration and the latest demand by the US Secretary of State. While respecting the ruling of Pakistan Supreme Court, a statement from the US Department of State has stated that the US is ready to “prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen.” Though the US may not have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, in the past, many prisoners who were caught in Pakistan have been transferred to the US and spending time in Guantanamo Bay, including the al Qaeda terrorists.
What does it mean?
First, the media freedom and the journalists’ challenge – local and foreign in Pakistan to do their job, without fear and consequences. Worse, the legal system’s ability in Pakistan to provide justice, in case anything goes against them while performing their duties, as Daniel Pearl did. During the last two decades, there has been a systematic campaign against the journalists and media houses, not only by the non-State actors but also the State actors.
Second, the problem of investigation and legal conviction on cases relating to terrorism. Daniel Pearl’s murder case was a high profile one. So was Benazir Bhutto’s. There is a serious problem with the investigation process in terror-related cases. Not only the friends and families of the victims demand it, but also international actors, including the FATF.
Third, the larger questions. If Omar Sheikh and the three other accused are innocents of the crime, who killed Daniel Pearl? What was Omar Sheikh, a British national, with a long list of kidnapping and terrorism cases – from Bosnia to India, doing in Karachi? Will Pakistan allow the other countries to prosecute Omar Sheikh?
European Union: New challenges in addressing delay in vaccine supplies, new variants and anti-lockdown protests
On 29 January, the European Union, amid a row with the vaccine manufacturers for delivery shortfalls, announced introducing export controls on the vaccines made in the bloc. “The protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no choice but to act,” the European Commission said. AstraZeneca, BioNTech, and Pfizer have their production units in the European Union. Under the new rule, vaccine firms will have to seek permission before supplying doses beyond the EU. The EU member states will be able to vet those export applications. Vaccine deliveries from two of the EU’s biggest suppliers, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, have been falling short of promised numbers by up to 60 per cent.
What is the background?
First, the delay and supply of vaccines. The EU’s public dispute with the vaccine-maker AstraZeneca began when it was revealed that the bloc is set to receive only a quarter of the 100 million doses that were to be delivered to the EU by the end of March. Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have communicated their inability to deliver to issues of production and management. With the new export controls, the EU has said that it would allow exemptions that would include vaccine donations to Covax, and the exports to Switzerland, countries in the western Balkans, Norway and North Africa. But the UK will not be exempted.
Second, coronavirus and the new variant in the region. As of 28 January, 18,849,065 cases and 449,395 deaths have been reported in the EU/EEA region. France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Poland have the top five highest number of cases. In December 2020, a new contagious variant of the virus spread across Europe, prompting the governments to introduce harsh new lockdowns and curfews. This saw some resistance in some countries in the region, inversely adding to the increase in the number of cases.
Third, the EU’s logic and complaint. The dwindling supplies have caused many countries to redesign their vaccination schedules. Hungary has gone ahead and announced that it would acquire the Sputnik V vaccine for its population. Other member countries too, have begun to express their discontent with the situation with many countries announcing the desire to start procuring vaccines in their individual capacities. The problem of transparency in the deal that has been signed between the EU and the vaccine companies seems to be causing issues in the early months of delivery processes which is not a good sign for the bloc as a whole that is hoping to vaccinate a large chunk of its population in the first half of 2021.
What does it mean?
The EU hoped to project its vaccine procurement scheme to reflect the EU’s solidarity and strength. However, when the new variant of the virus emerged, all countries in the region closed off their borders to each other with a stark contrast to the region’s approach to ‘vaccine nationalism’ in the world. The capitalist business models have a history of overpromising and under-delivering. The promises made in the early days of vaccine announcement were clearly overestimated, considering AstraZeneca had to undergo an additional round of testing. The export control measures placed now may be targeted specifically towards manufacturing in the UK. Nevertheless, the process of vaccine manufacturing is expected to take more time than earlier estimated, and the decision taken by the EU to ensure export controls seem timely.
Also in the news…
By Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
Hong Kong: Carrie Lam submits duty report to Xi Jinping
On 27 January, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) submitted an annual report to the Chinese President Xi Jinping who is currently reviewing it. The report highlights the HKSAR government’s achievements in dealing with social unrest, robust execution of the National Security Law, Centre’s support for reviving HKSAR’s economy, and fighting against the pandemic. The report also put forth the idea of “patriots governing HKSAR” as the only sustainable method to ensure stability and security in the region.
China: WHO scientists begin a review of COVID-19 origin in Wuhan
On 29 January, a team of scientists led by the World Health Organization (WHO) started discussing with Chinese scientists; they plan to visit labs, markets and hospitals in Wuhan in the coming two weeks. On 15 January, the team arrived in Wuhan and have now completed the two-week quarantine period. The operation’s mission will be tracing the origin of the virus and the reasons behind it to prevent future outbreaks.
Taiwan: Beijing cautions against ‘independence from China’
On 28 January, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson reiterated that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China and that “Taiwan’s Independence means war”. The statement comes as a response to foreign interference in the South China Sea and Taiwan’s insistence of being a sovereign nation. Chinese aircrafts and fighter jets have been continually violating Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. The US Carrier battle group has also entered the region to promote “freedom of the seas”.
South Korea: Moon Jae-in showcases the country’s success at WEF
On 27 January 2021, Moon Jae-in attended the World Economic Forum’s online meeting and introduced the measures taken by South Korea to protect the economy and the people’s livelihood during the pandemic. Measures such as emergency cash and financial support were provided by the government. Meanwhile, additional measures such as compensation on losses due are currently being discussed by the Parliament. The President also encouraged FDI and promoted South Korea as a safe and stable destination for investments.
New Zealand: Beijing upgrades FTA with Wellington
On 26 January, New Zealand and China upgraded their Free Trade Agreement and have eliminated most trade tariffs. The upgrade takes place in the background of heightened tensions between China and Australia. New Zealand’s Minister for Trade also advised Australia to be “more diplomatic” and create a “mature” relationship with China. Chinese media believes that this upgradation will finally act as a wake-up call for Australia for mending relations with China.
Thailand: Legislators vote to allow abortion in the first trimester
On 25 January, the Senate legislators voted to amend a previous abortion law which criminalized the act and punished both, the mother and the doctor. The amendment received 166 votes in favour and seven against. Individuals advocating the amendment believe that Thailand has a long way to go on the said issue and do not consider the new amendment as a real development. Teenage pregnancy is a critical issue faced by the country, with almost 1.5 million babies being born to teenagers between 2000 and 2014.
Indonesia: Jakarta seizes Iranian and Chinese supertankers for illegally transferring oil
On 24 January, the Indonesian Coast Guard seized two supertankers belonging to Iran and China near Kalimantan island to transfer oil and create a spill in the Indonesian waters. The 61 crew workers onboard the two tankers have been detained for further investigation. Indonesia clarified that the seizing of the tanker is not related to the US sanctions over Iran. Iran and China requested the Indonesian government for more information on the seizure and detainment of their citizens.
Myanmar: Election Commission rejects fraud allegations of the military
On 28 January, the Union Election Commission (UEC) rejected the military’s election fraud claims. Earlier, on 26 January, a military spokesperson raised irregularities in the November 2020 general elections and did not dismiss the possibility of a coup. On 27 January, the army chief said that the 2008 constitution could be revoked if it is not respected. The UN expressed concern over the developing situation while many countries, including the US and the UK, released a joint statement backing the Suu Kyi government and the democratic process.
The Philippines: Manila calls China’s new Coast Guard Law a ‘verbal threat of war’
On 27 January, the Philippines expressed discontent over a new Coast Guard Law passed by China, which enables it to use weapons against organizations and individuals when China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea is threatened. The Foreign Secretary voiced concerns regarding the new law and called it “a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law”. On the same day, the US Secretary of State also reaffirmed support to the Philippines if any attack in the South China Sea.
South Asia This Week
India: Military commanders continue the round of talks with Chinese counterparts
On 24 January, commanders from the Indian and Chinese Military met for the ninth round of Corps Commander Level Meeting. This meet’s motive was to discuss the disengagement of troops on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The two sides agreed to cooperate with each other to promote peace and tranquillity in the region. The delegation has agreed to meet for the tenth round of talks, the date for which has not been confirmed as of yet.
Sri Lanka: Government conveys the intention of revising the Prevention of Terrorism Act to the EU
On 25 January, the Sri Lankan government conveyed their intention of revising the PTA to the European Union during the 23rd virtual meeting of the Joint Commission. Sri Lanka asserted its commitment to implement the 27 international conventions on human and labour rights, environment and good governance. The EU also reconfirmed the need for Sri Lanka to revisit its PTA to match with international standards. Sri Lanka will appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations.
Sri Lanka: UNHRC releases report on human rights violations
On 27 January, the UNHRC released a report regarding the deteriorating condition of human rights in Sri Lanka and urged the country to adopt a new resolution to safeguard rights of the people. The report also elucidated the steps that the Human Rights Council should undertake to prevent future violations. The UN investigators also found numerous war crimes committed against the people, including journalists and activists.
Nepal: Agricultural sector protests against FDI
On 23 January, 15 associations came together to form a struggle committee to protest against the government’s foreign investment in the agricultural sector. The associations believe that the FDI will risk the income source of a huge portion of the population occupied in agriculture.
Nepal: Election Commission does not recognize the NCP split
On 24 January, the Election Commission declared that it only recognizes the Nepal Communist Party established in 2018 and not the two factions that have been created recently due to the house dissolution. The commission has notified that the party’s existing details in 2018 will be maintained as the decision to split had been taken unilaterally by the parties involved and were against the statute of the party. Section 44 of Nepal’s Political Parties Act provides that factions seeking ownership of the original party must present the commission with documents and 40 signatures within 30 days. It has now been 33 days since the issue began.
Nepal: Oli summoned to the Supreme Court
On 28 January, the Supreme Court asked Prime Minister KP Oli to present himself within seven days with an explanation as to why he must not be punished for contempt of court. After two cases of contempt of court, the order was issued against him at the apex court. These cases of contempt stem from Oli’s remarks on legal practitioners protesting the dissolution of the House.
Afghanistan: Biden extends Zalmay Khalilzad’s term as US Envoy
On 28 January, the Biden Administration started reviewing the peace deal with the Taliban and has decided to entrust Zalmay Khalilzad with negotiating peace in the region ahead. Khalilzad was appointed by former President Trump as a Special US Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, clarified that the review of the previous agreements is being conducted to distinctly understand the commitments made by the Trump Administration as well as the Taliban.
Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa This Week
Armenia: Protests against Prime Minister over handling of the war with Azerbaijan
On 28 January, thousands of Armenians gathered outside the government headquarters in Yerevan to protest against PM Nikol Pashinian and his handling of the war with Azerbaijan. As many as 21 people have been arrested by the police during the protests. The PM has rejected demands of his resignation and has hinted at the possibility of an early election. The Armenians are highly displeased over the Moscow brokered ceasefire. A huge portion of the land was given away to Azerbaijan despite Armenia’s 30 years of rule over the region.
Lebanon: Security forces use ammunition against protestors
On 27 January, the third day of riots in the second largest city of Tripoli, Lebanon, witnessed violent clashes as the security forces used ammunition against people who were protesting against the lack of economic and financial aid during the national lockdown. Numerous citizens were injured and were provided medical aid by the Lebanese Red Cross. The country faces dire economic conditions as most businesses have shut down without economic aid from the government. People are forced to remain indoors due to the rising cases of coronavirus.
Yemen: UN report hold government responsible for corruption
On 26 January, the Reuters reported on the Annual Report to the UN Security Council which claims that Yemen’s government has played a role in money laundering and has collected approximately $1.8 billion worth revenue to help fund its war efforts. The government’s actions have put the country in a state of grave food insecurity, leaving millions of civilians without a source of income or food in the country. The UN investigation has found the country’s bank guilty of manipulating the foreign exchange to illegally transfer money to private organizations. The report highlights evidence of Iran supplying weapons to the Houthis which the former denies.
Iran: Tehran inches closer to weapons-grade enrichment
On 28 January, Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf visited the Fordow nuclear facility and announced that it has produced 17 kgs of 20 per cent enriched uranium in less than a month. Iran had earlier declared that it will try to achieve 120 kg of 20 per cent enriched uranium per year, setting a 10 kg average per month; they have exceeded it in the first month. Qalibaf appreciated the efforts of the Atomic Energy Organization for their efforts in achieving the targets. Meanwhile, the West has criticized Iran for not adhering to the 2015 nuclear accord.
Israel: First visit to Sudan post normalization
On 25 January, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen became the first Israeli delegation to visit Sudan after signing the Abraham Accords earlier this month, which normalized the relationship between the two countries. The Intelligence Minister, along with delegates from the National Security Council of Israel met with the head of the Sovereign Council and Defense Minister of Sudan. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on security-related issues, and the Sudanese diplomats were also invited to Israel for further talks.
Ethiopia: the US urges Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately
On 27 January, the US State Department Spokesperson addressed the Tigray Conflict and asked the Eritrean soldiers to leave the region immediately after information regarding looting, sexual violence, assaults and other human rights violations were reported. There was also evidence against the forced return of Eritrean refugees from Tigray to Eritrea. The Eritrean presence in the region has been denied by Ethiopia’s government.
Libya: US pushes for Russia, UAE and Turkey to stop intervention
On 28 January, the US Deputy Ambassador to the UN made a speech at the UN Security Council and identified three foreign players in Libya who influence its politics. The US urged Russia, UAE and Turkey to stop their military intervention and accept Libya’s sovereignty. The Libyan government is now preparing to hold elections and end the years of fighting that ensued after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011.
Europe and the Americas This Week
Poland: Protests against a near-total ban on abortion
On 27 January, the Polish government issued a near-total ban on abortion resulting in nationwide protests against the passing of the legislation. On 28 January, the government extended restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic. Despite restrictions, there were massive protests in the capital city of Warsaw and other towns in Poland. The government advocates assisting parents of disabled children instead of taking away their right to life. The pro-choice activists and citizens were hit hard by the passing of the legislation.
Italy: PM Conte resigns amid coronavirus crisis
On 26 January, Giuseppe Conte resigned from the position of Prime Minister tactically to form a new coalition party. Conte was confronted by a vote of confidence when a former PM pulled his party out of the coalition, citing the mismanagement of funds during the pandemic and economic recession caused thereby. Conte overcame the vote of confidence in the lower house and even won a senate vote but does not have a majority any longer, restricting the government’s decision-making capacity.