A court in Pakistan on Thursday ordered the release of a British-born militant convicted of murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and beheaded in the southern city of Karachi in 2002.
The decision by Sindh High Court comes months after it sparked outrage for overturning the murder conviction and death sentence of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and acquitted three other men connected to the case.
An appeal against the acquittals which is ongoing in Pakistan’s Supreme Court had effectively halted their release, but defence lawyers argued against their continued detention in the south of the country.
The court has found there is “no valid reason for depriving them of their freedom,” said Mahmood Sheikh, who is representing Sheikh and his co-defendants.
“The release might take place today and if not then it is in the next 24 hours. There is no legal hitch in setting them free,” he added.
In a written order issued Thursday, the court said all four “shall be released from jail forthwith on the receipt of this order”.
Sheikh, a seasoned jihadist who once studied at the London School of Economics and has a history of kidnapping foreigners, was arrested days after Pearl’s kidnapping and later sentenced to death by hanging.
In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University following an investigation into his death made chilling revelations, claiming that the wrong men were convicted for Pearl’s murder.
The investigation, led by Pearl’s friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani and a Georgetown University professor, claimed the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, not Sheikh.
Pearl was 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.
A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate nearly a month later.
Pearl’s killing stirred international condemnation of Pakistan’s military government just as it was remaking its image after years of backing the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.
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