A Pakistani provincial court has ordered the release of four men convicted of the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, a development that analysts say further strain Pakistan’s ties with the United States.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced to death for organizing the kidnapping and murder of Pearl, beheaded after being tortured for several days. Three other men – Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil – received life sentences for their role in the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter, who disappeared in the port city of Karachi in 2002 while investigating an article on the terror of al-Qaeda. network.
In April, the Provincial High Court of southern Sindh province ordered the men to release after Sheikh’s death sentence was turned into jail and the sentences of the other three men were reduced. The length of their detention was considered an execution of their prison sentence.
On Thursday, Sindh High Court Judge KK Agha ruled that there was no justification for keeping the men in “detention of any kind”, adding that the detention orders were “null and void. “.
A senior lawyer representing the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan told the Financial Times that the administration would contact the Supreme Court of Pakistan “within days” to “overturn Thursday’s judgment”.
Mr. Khan’s government and Pearl’s parents have already appealed the April order to the Supreme Court. A senior official in Islamabad said Thursday that Khan’s administration would pursue the case “intensely”.
“The offense was very serious,” he told FT. “The end result of this case will be closely watched outside Pakistan. We must see that justice is done ”.
Analysts said the development would damage Pakistan’s international reputation and in particular its relations with the United States.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani security affairs analyst, said: “I expect the US media and think tanks to view this development as a strengthening of Pakistan’s image as a country where the system legal system is weak and where there is room for extremists.
Ghazi Salahuddin, senior columnist at the English-language newspaper The News, said: “There will certainly be a reaction from the United States and other Western countries. The murder of Daniel Pearl was one of the most gruesome of its kind.
It was not known Thursday evening if the men had left the prison. A government official said the releases might not take place until Monday due to a combination of Christmas and the weekend, adding that this could give the government time to make its appeal.
The judge banned the four men from leaving Pakistan and ordered them to appear in court whenever they were called. A senior Pakistani security official said the men “would remain under very close surveillance if they were released.”