A Pakistani court on Thursday overturned the murder conviction of a British national for the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl 18 years ago.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh had been facing a death sentence. The Karachi court instead reduced his sentence to seven years, after hearing an appeal last month.

Saeed was found guilty in 2002 of orchestrating the kidnapping, terrorism and murder, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reported that the court overturned the terrorism and murder convictions and downgraded the kidnapping conviction.

Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was in Karachi investigating possible Pakistani links to Richard Reid, the man known as the "shoe bomber."

Pearl was beheaded, and a video capturing the act was sent to the U.S. Consulate.

Saeed's attorney anticipated that he could be released soon if the Pakistani government decides against challenging the court's decision, according to The Associated Press. Saeed has already spent 18 years in prison.

The seven year kidnapping sentence could be counted as time served, Khwaja Naveed, the defendant's lawyer, told the AP.

The government is expected to appeal Thursday's court ruling.

The Journal reported that the defense team challenged the evidence presented in court used to convict Saeed and three other men in connection with Pearl's abduction and murder.

Press freedom advocates and Pearl's family have expressed outrage that the court reduced Saeed's sentence.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement it "is deeply disappointed to see justice in the murder case of @WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl denied by a Pakistani court today."

Judea Pearl, an Israeli-American philosopher and Daniel's father, tweeted that the court ruling was a "mockery of justice" and implored the prosecutor general to appeal.

"It is a mockery of justice. Anyone with a minimal sense of right and wrong now expects Faiz Shah, prosecutor general of Sindh to do his duty and appeal this reprehensible decision to the Supreme Court of Pakistan," Pearl said.

An investigative report compiled by Georgetown University's The Pearl Project supports the assertion that Saeed was not responsible for Pearl's killing, but he played central role in the plot to kidnap the journalist.

The report blames Pearl's beheading on Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, considered to be the architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He's currently being held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp on terrorism-related charges.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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