The Pakistan Supreme Court (SC) has barred the Sindh government from releasing Omar Sheikh, the main accused in the 2002 abduction and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, as it began hearing arguments which challenged the provincial High Court's decision.

The Sindh government as well as Peral's parents had filed separate appeals against the April 2 order of the Sindh High Court (SHC) that had modified Sheikh's death sentence to seven-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of 2 million PKR, reports Dawn news.

Sheikh, who had already spent 18 years in prison on death row after being sentenced by an anti-terrorism court for Pearl's murder, was expected to be released after the high court verdict since his seven-year sentence was to be counted as time already served.

Daniel Pearl
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However, the Sindh government issued an order to detain Sheikh and four others, whose convictions had been overturned, till September 30.

During Monday's hearing, the three-member judge bench of the apex court led by Justice Mushir Alam issued notices to all the respondents in acquittal pleas, The Express Tribune reported.

During the proceedings, the counsel for Pearl's parents, Faisal Siddiqui, argued that Sheikh wrote a letter to the SHC Registrar, but it ignored his confession in the letter.

"We want the trial court's decision to be reinstated. Evidence suggests the abduction was for ransom. The court's query regarding the element of conspiracy is correct," the counsel said, adding that the confessional statements of the two accused proved the murder to be a conspiracy.

Justice Amin suggested putting Sheikh's name on the Exit Control List (ECL) as well as Schedule-B, that would bind him to appear before the court.

Allowing the appeals challenging the SHC's decision for a preliminary hearing, the court adjourned the hearing for a week.

Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching links between militants in Pakistan, said The Express Tribune report.

A graphic video showing Pearl's decapitation was delivered to the US consulate in Karachi nearly a month after he was kidnapped.

Sheikh was arrested in February 2002.