A Lahore trial court Wednesday acquitted CIA contractor Raymond Davis on charges of killing two Pakistani men in late January, and Pakistani authorities said the 36-year-old American had been released from custody.
Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed Davis’ acquittal and said Davis had been released. A private Pakistani television channel reported that Davis had been flown to London.
The basis for the acquittal was not known as of late Wednesday afternoon Pakistani time. It is also not known if the case was resolved through an Islamic tradition embraced by Pakistani law that allows the heirs of a murder victim to accept financial compensation, known as diyat, in exchange for forgiving the killer. Up until Wednesday, the families of the two men Davis shot had not said whether they would abide by such a resolution, and the U.S. had refused to say whether they had initiated talks focused on an out-of-court settlement.
The case has severely strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, an ally that Washington relies on heavily in the battle against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the country’s volatile northwest, as well as in efforts to bring an end to the nine-year conflict against insurgents in Afghanistan.
Davis says he was in his car at a busy Lahore intersection Jan. 27 when two men on a motorcycle approached, one of them brandishing a handgun. Davis claims he fired at both men in self-defense. Police, however, say the shooting was unjustified, pointing out that both men had bullet wounds in their backs. Another U.S. government vehicle rushing to Davis’ aid struck and killed a third Pakistani motorcyclist. Pakistani authorities believe the driver of that car has since returned to the U.S.
Davis’ acquittal came just hours after a trial court judge in Lahore announced his formal indictment on charges of murdering the two men.
The U.S. had repeatedly urged Pakistani officials to release Davis on the grounds that he enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution given to all diplomats through the Vienna Convention of 1961. However, fearing a popular backlash the Pakistani government was reluctant to take a position on whether Davis had diplomatic immunity. Most Pakistanis wanted Davis tried on the murder charges, a feeling that intensified with the recent revelation that the American had been assigned to Pakistan as a contractor for the CIA.