Islamabad — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a series of appeals against the acquittal of the British-born militant convicted of masterminding the kidnap and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, paving the way for his release along with three other accomplices.
“The court has come out to say that there is no offense that he has committed in this case,” Mahmood Sheikh, who represented accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, told AFP.
The ruling follows an international outcry last year after a lower court acquitted the 47-year-old of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnapping, overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after almost two decades in prison.
Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants. Nearly a month later, after a string of ransom demands were made, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. consulate.
Lawyers for Pearl’s family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in organizing the abduction and detention of the journalist, before ordering his captors to kill him.
Defense lawyers, however, say he has been used as a scapegoat for the murder and was sentenced on insufficient evidence.
Sheikh and the three other men convicted of involvement in the kidnapping have been held under emergency orders by the Sindh provincial government, which has argued that they are a danger to the public.
There was no word on when they would be released following Thursday’s decision.
Pearl’s family called the top court’s ruling “a travesty of justice” and pleaded for U.S. intervention in the case.
“The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the U.S. government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice,” the family said in a statement.
In a statement last month, the then-U.S. acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that America “stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here” after labelling the acquittal “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere.”
“We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder,” Rosen said in the statement.