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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Musharraf accused of Pearl case contempt
Sheikh Omar outside court
The trial is being held in a Karachi jail
Lawyers for the British-born militant accused of masterminding the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl have filed a contempt of court application against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Omar Sheikh arriving at court in Karachi
Omar Sheikh faces the death penalty

Lawyers for Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh said they were taking action after comments made by the president in an interview with German magazine, Der Spiegel.

In the interview, President Musharraf is alleged to have said that he wanted to see Omar Sheikh sentenced to death.

The development came as the trial was adjourned for 10 days to allow more time for the arrest of seven other suspects who are still to be found.

Chief suspect Omar Sheikh and three others are facing charges of kidnapping, murder and terrorism and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Fair trial questioned

After Friday's hearing, defence lawyers said President Musharraf's alleged comments had threatened Omar Sheikh's right to a fair trial.

Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl disappeared in January

"To demand the sentence of death for Omar is to tell the courts to convict and sentence the accused to capital punishment," one of the lawyers said.

They also said they did not believe the accused could be convicted on what they called circumstantial evidence.

The chief prosecutor said he was confident of securing convictions, even though there was no murder weapon and Mr Pearl's body still has not been found.

Legal experts and human rights organisations have also questioned whether Omar Sheikh will get a fair trial in the special anti-terrorism court.

Journalists and the public have been banned from the Karachi jail where the trial is being held.

Only relatives were allowed access and the jail is surrounded by paramilitary troops with machine guns.

No body

Mr Pearl, the Wall Street Journal's South Asia bureau chief, disappeared on 23 January.

The case
Chief accused: Omar Sheikh

Co-accused: Sheikh Mohammed Adeel, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, seven others still at large

Prosecution evidence: ransom e-mails, "execution" video, 31 witnesses

Charges: murder, kidnapping, demanding ransom, terrorism

Maximum penalty: death

H was researching possible links between Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and Richard Reid, the British man who boarded a US-bound flight with explosives in his shoes.

Photographs of Mr Pearl in captivity with a gun to his head were sent by e-mail with ransom demands.

In February, a video tape was sent to US officials showing his killing, but his body has not been found.

The trial is being held in the jail after an application to have it heard in public in Karachi's criminal court was rejected on security grounds.

Police are still searching for the seven other men believed to have been involved in the murder.

One of the accused said on the first day of the trial that he had been tortured in police detention.

The BBC's Susannah Price
The chief prosecutor said he was confident of securing convictions"
See also:

09 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case suspect hears testimony
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf says Pearl 'too intrusive'
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Chief suspect 'met dead US journalist'
05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case extradition 'possible'
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