A Pakistani court on Thursday commuted the death sentence of the main person accused in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of an American Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, and acquitted three other co-accused in the matter.
All four had been convicted in connection with Pearl's kidnapping and murder, including British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for masterminding the murder. He has been in jail for 18 years.
Pearl, 38, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when he was kidnapped in January 2002. His case grabbed headlines globally, after a video of his beheading emerged weeks after.
'No evidence has been brought on record by the prosecution to link any of the appellants to the murder of Pearl and as such all the appellants are acquitted of murder,' said a two-member bench of the Sindh High Court.
The United States slammed the ruling, with the top U.S. diplomat for South Asia saying the verdict 'is an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere.'
The court also acquitted all four of charges of kidnapping the American for ransom too, and found Sheikh guilty only on the charge of abduction.
Sheikh was sentenced to seven years on the abduction charge, but he is expected to be freed soon given time already served.
'Omar has already served 18 years, so his release orders will be issued sometime today. He will be out in a few days,' Khawaja Naveed, a defence lawyer, saidd.
A senior Pakistani government law officer told Reuters via phone that the state would appeal against the Sindh High Court's verdict.
"We welcome Pakistan's decision to appeal the verdict," acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells said. "Those responsible for Daniel's heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice."
Pakistan's Foreign Office said the issue pertains to the Ministry of Interior "who will be looking at the judgment in detail." The Ministry of Interior did not respond to a request for comment.
The convictions in Pearl's murder case had been brought into question after another defendant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the alleged masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks, told a U.S. military tribunal in 2007 that he beheaded Pearl.
In a statement, the Wall Street Journal said it continues to seek justice for the murder of Pearl. His widow, Mariane Pearl, was not immediately reachable for comment.