A Pakistani court has ordered the release of British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a prime suspect in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The 47-year-old Sheikh was sentenced to death for his role in the conspiracy. Earlier this year, the Sindh High Court of Pakistan acquitted him and three other people – a decision that has been rejected by many, including Perle’s family. The four were taken into custody by the government pending an appeal against their acquittal.
However, on Thursday the Sindh High Court overturned the government’s arrest warrant and ordered her release, while the provincial government’s arrest warrants were found illegal.
The court ruled that neither the province nor the federal government had any reason to keep Sheikh or the other three behind bars. However, according to reports, the provincial government will appeal the release order.
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-profit organization that promotes freedom of the press, said it supports the pursuit of justice for Daniel Pearl. “The release of Omar Saeed Sheikh and his accomplices would increase the threat to journalists in Pakistan.” tweeted the CPJ.
Perle’s family lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, said the “arrest warrant was down” and said that Sheikh would be released pending the completion of the appeal but would return to jail if they managed to overturn the acquittal.
Sheik’s lawyer Mehmood A sheik called for the immediate release of his client.
The acquittal is being challenged separately by both the Pakistani government and Perle’s family.
The Pakistani Supreme Court is expected to resume its hearing on January 5th. Mr. Siddiqi said he expected the appeal to be decided by the Supreme Court by the end of January.
Sheikh was arrested in India in 1994 on a case related to the kidnapping of foreign tourists, but was released in December 1999 with two terrorists in Kandahar in exchange for an Indian Airlines flight hijacked by terrorists.
In the Pearl murder case, Sheikh was convicted of helping to lure them Wall Street Journal Reporter at a meeting in Karachi in January 2002, from where he was abducted. A gruesome video of Perle’s beheading was then sent to the US consulate.
Sheikh’s role in the assassination of Pearl is controversial – he is believed to have participated in the kidnapping, but it is believed that he did not participate in his murder.
Additional reporting by agencies