A provincial court in Pakistan has ordered the man charged in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl to be freed

Davies

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh stands near police at the front of a court.

A provincial court in Pakistan has ordered the man charged in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl to be freed, the Pearl family lawyer said.

Key points:

  • Pearl, 38, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the September 11 attack
  • His case grabbed headlines globally, after a video of his killing emerged
  • British-born Sheikh was initially sentenced to death in 2002

The Sindh High Court’s release order overturns a decision by Pakistan’s top court that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, should remain in custody.

Sheikh was acquitted of murdering Pearl earlier this year, but has been held while Pearl’s family appeals the acquittal.

Sheikh’s lawyer Mehmood A Sheikh, with whom he is not related, called for his client to be released immediately.

“The detention order is struck down,” said Faisal Siddiqi, the Pearl family lawyer.

Pearl, 38, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US when he was kidnapped in January 2002.

His case grabbed headlines globally, after a video of his beheading emerged weeks after Pearl was abducted.

British-born Sheikh was initially sentenced to death in 2002 for masterminding the murder of Pearl, who worked for the Wall Street Journal.

Three others were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the plot.

Mr Siddiqi said Sheikh will be freed until the appeal is completed, but will be returned to prison if the family is successful in overturning the acquittal.

A portrait of the Wall Street Journal's reporter Daniel Pearl stands with a candle at an altar.

Wall Street Journal’s reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered after being kidnapped in Pakistan.(AP: Ian Waldie)

But a lower Pakistani court in April acquitted him and three others, a move that stunned the United States Government, Pearl’s family and journalism advocacy groups.

The acquittal is now being appealed separately by the Pakistani Government and Pearl’s family, a process that under Pakistani law could take years.

The Pakistani Government has opposed Sheikh’s release, saying it would endanger the public.

The Supreme Court will resume its hearing on January 5.

Sheikh had been convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in which he was kidnapped.

Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after he was caught attempting to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

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