A Pakistani provincial government has appealed to the country's Supreme Court to review its decision to release the main suspect in the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, after the United States and several rights groups expressed outrage over the decision.
The Sindh government's prosecutor, Faiz Shah, said the petition was filed on January 29, a day after Supreme Court judges acquitted British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh by a two-to-one decision.
The three-judge bench ordered Sheikh and his three co-accused released forthwith if they are not involved in any other case.
The lawyer for Pearl's parents said a review petition is always heard by the same judges, which means a different decision is unlikely.
Pearl’s family described the ruling as a “travesty of justice” and White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was "outraged” by it.
Calling the ruling “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement urged the Pakistani government to “expeditiously review its legal options to ensure justice is served,” including allowing the United States to prosecute Sheikh.
On January 29, Blinken and Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureishi discussed "how to ensure accountability for convicted terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and others responsible for the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl", the State Department said.
Reporters Without Borders said it was "appalled" by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision, while Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists said Pearl "deserves justice and Sheikh deserves to pay for his crime. Journalists everywhere are less safe" due to the court's ruling.
Sheikh, a former student at the London School of Economics, was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court, while the three other defendants were handed life sentences for their part in Pearl’s kidnapping and death.
In April last year, a lower court acquitted the 47-year-old Sheikh of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnap -- overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after almost two decades in prison.
Pearl, 38, was the 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 video showing Pearl's decapitation was delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi nearly a month later.