Pakistan’s Supreme Court adjourned on Thursday without deciding whether to free the man convicted – and later acquitted – of the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s killing, remains in custody while his lawyer has petitioned the top court to free him in keeping with another court’s ruling last month that ordered his release.
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Pearl’s family and the Pakistani government have appealed the acquittal to the Supreme Court, which resumed its hearing this week.
A decision is expected before the end of the month.
Sheikh’s lawyer has been trying to get his client, who has been on death row for 18 years, freed since his acquittal.
The US has opposed the release and Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments have come forward with successive legal challenges to avoid freeing him.
The Sindh provincial government is facing contempt charges for refusing to free Sheikh.
The regional court hearing those charges will resume on January 13.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera last month, Pearl’s family said the “murderers should remain in jail” before the appeal.
“We refuse to believe that the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people will let such a travesty of justice tarnish the image and legacy of Pakistan,” said Ruth and Judea, Pearl’s parents, in the statement.
“We believe that our son’s murderers should remain in jail because of the Supreme Court appeals, and we are also heartened to hear the Government of Pakistan is filing an appeal against the latest release order so that our son’s murderers will remain in jail and justice will prevail.”
Sheikh was acquitted early last year by the Sindh High Court in the brutal beheading of Pearl, who was lured to his death while investigating links between Pakistani-based armed groups and Richard C Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.
Pearl was working for the Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped on January 23, 2002. The US embassy later received a gruesome video of Pearl’s death and his body was found in a shallow grave in a southern Karachi neighbourhood.
In Sheikh’s original trial, emails between Sheikh and Pearl presented in court showed Sheikh gained Pearl’s confidence by sharing their experiences as both waited for the birth of their first child.
Sheikh was sentenced to death and three other suspects to life in prison for their role in the plot.
Their acquittal has stunned the US government, Pearl’s family and journalism advocacy groups.
Washington has said it will not let Sheikh escape justice, saying if the acquittal is upheld by the Supreme Court, the US will demand he be sent to the US to be prosecuted for Pearl’s killing.