A Pakistani court has overturned the murder conviction of a British Pakistani man found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
Instead, the court on Thursday found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced him to seven years in jail.
One of his lawyers, Khwaja Naveed, said he could go free unless the government chooses to challenge the court decision.
“The murder charges were not proven, so he [court] has given seven years for the kidnapping,” Naveed told Reuters by telephone.
“Omar has already served 18 years, so his release orders will be issued sometime today. He will be out in a few days,” Naveed added.
At least four people were convicted in connection with Pearl’s murder, including the British-born Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for masterminding the murder.
A two-member bench of the High Court of Sindh province issued the order in the city of Karachi, Naveed said, adding that the three others, who had been serving life-sentences in connection with the case, had been acquitted.
“We haven’t had a very strong reaction [to the verdict] given the fact there is this [coronavirus] pandemic, and all news is focused on that,” Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said.
According to Hyder, the court said the prosecution had not been able to prove its case, in which most of the witnesses were policemen.
In a statement later on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal said: “We continue to seek justice for the murder of Daniel Pearl. Danny was a cherished colleague and we will always honor his memory and service.”
Pearl was investigating armed groups in Karachi after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States when he was kidnapped in January 2002. Video emerged a few weeks later of his murder.
A Sindh prosecutor said he would consider appealing against the court decision.
“We will go through the court order once it is issued, we will probably file an appeal,” Faiz Shah, the provincial prosecutor general, told Reuters by telephone.
Sheikh was arrested in India in the 1990s for his involvement in the kidnapping of western tourists in 1994.
He was one of three men released from an Indian prison after armed groups hijacked an Indian airliner in late 1999 and flew it to Afghanistan, where the then-ruling Taliban regime helped negotiate an exchange.