Pakistan Supreme Court upholds acquittal of UK-born Omar Sheikh convicted of organizing the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl.
A three-judge panel of Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted of the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, a government lawyer said.
“By a two-to-one majority, they acquitted all the defendants and ordered their release,” Provincial Attorney General Salman Talibuddin told Reuters in a text message on Thursday.
Sheikh, a 47-year-old British Pakistani man, was the prime suspect in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter.
The court also dismissed the appeal of Sheikh’s acquittal by Pearl’s family.
“Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers endangers journalists around the world and the Pakistani people,” the Pearl family said in a statement released by their lawyer.
Sheikh has been on death row since his conviction for Pearl’s death. His lawyer said Sheikh “shouldn’t have spent a day in jail.”
Unrelated lawyer Mehmood A Sheikh said the court ordered the release of three other Pakistanis, who had been sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in the kidnapping and death of Pearl.
The ruling follows an international outcry last year after a lower court acquitted Sheikh of the murder and reduced his sentence to a lesser charge of kidnapping, overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after nearly two decades of jail.
Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002 while researching an article on armed fighters in the country.
Almost a month later, after a series of ransom demands, a graphic video showing his beheading was delivered to the US Consulate in Karachi.
Lawyers for Pearl’s family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in arranging the journalist’s kidnapping and detention, before ordering his captors to kill him.
Defense lawyers, however, claim he was used as a scapegoat for the murder and was convicted on the basis of insufficient evidence.
Sheikh and the other three men convicted of involvement in the kidnapping were detained under emergency orders by the Sindh provincial government, which claimed they posed a danger to the public.
There was no word on the date of their publication after Thursday’s decision.
In a statement last month, Acting United States Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said America “was ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial” after calling the acquittal “a ‘affront to victims of terrorism everywhere’.
Washington had previously said it would demand Sheikh be extradited to the United States for trial. There was no immediate reaction from the US Embassy to the court’s decision to uphold the appeal.