A Pakistani court has overturned a death sentence and murder conviction imposed on a British-born militant over the 2002 killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Defense lawyer Khawja Naveed said that, in handing down the decision, a two-member bench of the High Court of Sindh Province reduced Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh's sentence to seven years in prison for kidnapping, in what international media freedom watchdogs called a "denial of justice."
The United States said the decision was an "affront to victims of terrorism."
Since Sheikh has been in prison since 2002, he was expected to be released, but the court had yet to issue such an order, Naveed added.
Pearl, 38, was The Wall Street Journal's South Asia bureau chief when he was abducted and beheaded in Karachi in 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.
Sheikh, a former student at the London School of Economics, was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court, while three other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Naveed said those three had been acquitted by the court in its new ruling.
Faiz Shah, the provincial prosecutor-general, said he intends to appeal the ruling.
"We will go through the court order once it is issued, we will probably file an appeal," Shah told Reuters.
Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs at the U.S. State Department, said on Twitter that the overturning of the convictions was "an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere."
"We welcome Pakistan’s decision to appeal the verdict," Wells added. "Those responsible for Daniel's heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice."
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “deeply disappointed to see justice in the murder case of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl denied by a Pakistani court today."
Reporters Without Borders condemned the court's "incoherent" ruling, which the watchdog called "a shocking denial of justice" for Pearl’s family and "a symbol of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in Pakistan.”
In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project, an investigative journalism team at Georgetown University in Washington, claimed that the wrong men were convicted for Pearl's murder.
The investigation claimed the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is being held in the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.