Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed an appeal against the acquittal of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and ordered his immediate release, as well as the release of three other co-defendants in the case.

In April, a Pakistan court commuted Sheikh’s death penalty to seven years’ imprisonment for kidnapping and acquitted three of his co-defendants, citing a lack of evidence. The court ordered his immediate release, as he had already served 18 years in jail. The Pearl family and the Sindh state government appealed to the Supreme Court, challenging the decision and requesting that the death penalty be reinstated.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel denied both pleas by majority decision.

The head of the panel, Justice Mushir Alam, issued a court order that Sheikh and his co-defendants are to be released immediately if they aren’t required in any other case, according to Reuters.

The Pearl family was in “complete shock,” the family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, told Reuters, adding that the court decision was a travesty of justice.

“No amount of injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl,” he said.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would be ready to prosecute Sheikh in the event that the efforts to reinstate his conviction fail.

“The United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here. We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder,” said Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in a statement.


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