A Pakistani court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of four men accused of orchestrating the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, including the main suspect earlier sentenced to death for masterminding the killing.
In April, the same court – the Sindh High Court – commuted the death sentence of the main suspect, British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and acquitted three others citing a lack of evidence against them.
Despite the decision, Pakistani authorities have kept the four in custody for the last eight months, citing reasons of law and order.
“All the petitioners … shall be released from jail forthwith on the receipt of this order, unless they are wanted in any other custody case or any order against their release has been passed by the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Thursday’s court order read.
The April order has been challenged by the government in the Supreme Court, and Pearl’s parents have also petitioned the country’s highest judicial forum seeking the overturning of the decision to acquit the suspects.
The appeals are still being heard.
Pearl, 38, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when he was kidnapped.
His case grabbed headlines globally, after a video of his beheading emerged weeks after he was abducted.
“It is a very disappointing judgment,” Salman Tablibuddin, Advocate General of Sindh province, told Reuters, adding that the provincial government has yet to decide if it wants to challenge the decision.