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Pakistan Court Orders Authorities to Release Man Convicted of Murdering American Journalist Daniel Pearl

FILE- Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnap-slaying, appears at the court in Karachi, Pakistan, March 29, 2002.

A court in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province ordered authorities Thursday to immediately release the British national charged over the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Thursday’s ruling by the high court in Karachi, the provincial capital, canceled a temporary detention order that had prevented British-born Ahmed Omar Sheikh from leaving the prison since the same court overturned his murder conviction eight months ago.

The April 2020 verdict modified Sheikh’s sentence to seven years in prison for kidnapping only, allowing him to be immediately freed for time served. Three other men—co-accused in the case and sentenced to life in jail at the same trial 18 years ago—were acquitted.

Pakistani authorities quickly moved to halt the release of the four men, however, citing “public safety” concerns, a law often used in high-profile cases to buy time for prosecutors to file an appeal.

Thursday’s written ruling, obtained by VOA, struck down the preventive detention order, directing authorities the four men “shall be released from jail forthwith.” It ordered authorities to not allow Sheikh and the others to leave Pakistan.

The judges also directed federal and provincial governments not to arrest or place the four men “under any prevention detention order … without the prior permission of the court.”

The Wall Street Journal reporter, 38 at the time of his murder, Pearl was visiting the port city of Karachi, the country’s largest, to investigate suspected links between Islamist militants and planners of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States before he was abducted and decapitated weeks later.

Pearl’s parents and Pakistani authorities separately have appealed to the Supreme Court against the April verdict that acquitted Sheikh. The top Pakistani court is scheduled to conduct the next hearing on January 5, 2021.

An attorney for the Pearl family told VOA that Sheikh will be freed until the appeal is completed, but all four men will “go to jail permanently” if the family is successful in overturning the acquittal.