The Pakistan Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of the key accused in the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, Reuters reported. The United States and India both expressed outrage over the ruling.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three others had been arrested for the journalist’s killing in 2002. Sheikh, a British national, was given the death penalty.
However in April last year, the High Court in Pakistan’s Sindh state overturned their murder conviction, citing a lack of evidence, according to CNN. Sheikh’s conviction was reduced to a charge of kidnapping.
The court said that the men had suffered “suffered irreparable harm and extreme prejudice” after being in jail for 18 years. It ordered their release in December. Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld the ruling despite appeals from Pearl’s family and Pakistani authorities.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the ruling was an “affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan”, according to Reuters. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US was outraged by the decision, The Hill reported.
She added: “The White House calls on the Pakistani government to expeditiously review its legal options, including allowing the United States to prosecute [Ahmad Saeed Omar] Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist and we are committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists anywhere accountable for their heinous crimes.”
The Indian government said the ruling was a “travesty of justice”, PTI reported.
“This case truly demonstrates Pakistan’s intent on taking action on terror front,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at a media briefing. “Our position on Pakistan taking sustained, verifiable, credible and irreversible action against terrorism and terrorist funding emanating from all territory under its control remain unchanged.”
Pearl, the Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, was kidnapped in Karachi while he was doing research for a story about militants. A month later, the assailants sent a video showing his beheading to US officials. The killing had triggered shock and outrage across the world.