Jan 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pakistan court orders release of man accused of beheading U.S. journalist

Picture of a mural painting of Daniel Pearl, he's seen wearing glasses and smiling.
Portrait of Daniel Pearl. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the man convicted and later acquitted of beheading American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 should be released.

The state of play: Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh — whose death sentence was overturned last year — and three other men who had been sentenced to life in prison for their alleged involvement were ordered to be released. It remains unclear whether they will be freed on Thursday, AP reports.

  • The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family.

What they're saying: "The Pearl family is in complete shock by the majority decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to acquit and release Ahmed Omer Sheikh and the other accused persons who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl," the Pearl family said in a statement, per AP.

  • "Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan."

Flashback: Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was investigating a potential link between Pakistani militants and a British man named Richard Reid, also known as the "show bomber" for his attempt to blow up a Paris flight with explosive devices in his shoes, according to AP.

  • Sheikh had told Pearl he could arrange a meeting with one of the militants. The day of the supposed meeting in January 2002, Pearl was kidnapped and, some time later, beheaded.

The big picture: "What’s at stake is not only justice for Pearl, but the hundreds of journalists killed around the world by Islamist militants in the last two decades," the Columbia Journalism Review wrote in April after Sheikh's sentence was overturned.

  • It is "a devastating setback for justice that would also send a dangerous message to Jihadi militants in Pakistan and around the world, who have systematically targeted journalists in the 18 years since Pearl was killed," CJR added.

Worth noting: The U.S. government had previously said it would demand Sheikh's extradition to be tried in the U.S., but the U.S. Embassy did not respond to his acquittal last year.

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