KARACHI, Pakistan — A provincial court in Pakistan on Thursday ordered the man charged in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl freed, his defense lawyer said.
The Sindh High Court's release order overturns a decision by Pakistan's top court that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl's slaying, should remain in custody, his lawyer said.
Sheikh was acquitted of murdering Pearl earlier this year, but has been held while Pearl's family appeals the acquittal.
Sheikh's lawyer Mehmood A. Sheikh, with whom he is not related, called for his client to be released immediately.
"The detention order is struck down," said Faisal Siddiqi, the Pearl family lawyer. Sheikh will be freed until the appeal is completed, he said, but will be returned to prison if the family is successful in overturning the acquittal.
Sheikh was sentenced to death and three others were sentenced to life in prison for their role in Pearl's death.
But in April, the Sindh High Court acquitted him and three others, a move that stunned the U.S. government, Pearl's family and journalism advocacy groups.
The acquittal is now being appealed separately by both the government and Pearl's family.
The government has opposed Sheikh's release, saying it would endanger the public.
The Supreme Court will resume its hearing on Jan. 5.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Sheikh had been convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, in which he was kidnapped.
Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the "Shoe Bomber" after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.
A gruesome video of Pearl's beheading was sent to the U.S. consulate. The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter from Encino, California, was abducted Jan. 23, 2002.