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The Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that four men convicted of the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl should go free, a move the White House described as “affront to terrorism victims everywhere.”
In 2002, while reporting on Richard Reid, the British terrorist known as the “shoe bomber.” Pearl worked as the South Asian bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.
In the midst of growing concern over the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, the high profile abduction drew international attention.
Assailants later filmed the beheading of Pearl and sent it to officials from the United States. It was one of the first propaganda videos created by extremists targeting hostages, and helped inspire other terror groups to film horrific and egregious acts of violence.
Four men were arrested in 2002 and convicted of Pearl’s abduction and murder. One, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national, was given the death penalty.
But in April last year, in the province of Sindh, where Karachi is located, a high court re-examined the case after it was revealed that investigators had not followed the lawful procedures of interrogation.
The Sindh High Court overturned all four men’s murder convictions, citing insufficient evidence, inconsistencies in police accounts, and forced confessions, concluding that “No evidence has been brought on record by the prosecutor to link any of the appellants to Pearl’s murder.”Only Sheikh’s abduction conviction remains, though the accompanying sentence of seven years implies that he is already eligible for release on time served.
The court added that after spending 18 years behind bars, the men had “suffered irreparable harm and extreme prejudice” and ordered all four to be set free in December.
This decision was upheld by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday, ruling against appeals by both the Pearl family and the Pakistani authorities.
The ruling was described as “infuriating and unjust,” by Matt Murray, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, a sentiment echoed by the Biden administration and the family of Pearl.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US was “outraged” by the ruling, which she called a “affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan.”
According to Pakistan’s interior ministry, the four men who are still in detention following the court’s ruling have been placed on the country’s exit control list, barring them from leaving the country.