“We are hoping to achieve justice”

May 17, 2020

An interview with Judea Pearl

Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father.

The News on Sunday requested an interview with Ruth and Judea Pearl over email, after they became party in the murder appeal. Ruth excused herself because she is too weak to speak or write. Excerpts from the interview with Judea Pearl follow.

A few months after 9/11 attacks, Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was researching terrorism networks was kidnapped and later beheaded on camera. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Briton of Pakistani origin, was convicted of masterminding Peal’s kidnapping and murder. In 2002, he was sentenced to death and three of his alleged accomplices to life in prison.

Last month, a Sindh High Court bench overturned the conviction of Sheikh and his co-accused for lack of adequate evidence. Alice Wells, the top US diplomat for Asia called the decision “an affront to the victims of terrorism everywhere”.

A day after the judgment was rendered, the government of Sindh arrested and detained Sheikh and the three co-accused under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance for three months. It also approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan against acquittal.

Daniel Pearl’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl also petitioned to the Supreme Court through a Pakistani lawyer on May 2, asking for the SHC ruling to be overturned.

After their son’s murder, the Pearls had created the Daniel Pearl Foundation to promote peace, mutual respect and understanding among diverse cultures through journalism, music and dialogue.

The Foundation partnered with Alfred Friendly Press Partners in 2003 to provide fellowships to journalists from South Asia (especially from Pakistan) and the Middle East to work in US newsrooms. Several journalists from Pakistan have spent five to six months each at major publications in the US under the programme. The programme also takes fellows to visit various parts of the US including a 10-day stay at Los Angeles, where they are based. The fellows interact with the Jewish community and spend a week at the newsroom of The Jewish Journal.

“They are the best people I have seen in my life. They lost their only son in Pakistan nevertheless they haven’t lost faith in humanity. Instead of becoming vindictive, they set up a fellowship programme for bringing journalists from Pakistan (and other Muslim countries),” Umar Cheema, a former Daniel Pearl fellow, tweeted on May 2.

Ruth and Judea posted a video message on twitter on May 2, after filing the appeal. “We’re standing up for justice, not only for our son, but for all our dear friends in Pakistan so they can live in a society free of violence and terrorism,” said Judea, standing with Ruth.

The News on Sunday: How did you handle the news of acquittal of Omar Sheikh and his three accomplices in Daniel Pearl’s murder case by a High Court in Pakistan?

Judea Pearl: It was both painful and shocking. We refused to believe that such a travesty of justice can take place in 2020, and thought it must be that someone had decided to take advantage of the corona pandemic, assuming that the world will not pay attention.

TNS: Are you satisfied with the response of government of Pakistan?

JP: Yes, it was the proper response. We were happy, first, that an order was issued to extend their detention and, second, that the government decided to appeal the ruling and to do so seriously, with the help of the federal government.

TNS: You have also filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan to reverse the decision of Sindh High Court. What made you become a party in the case 18 years after the crime? What are you hoping to achieve?

JP: We are hoping to achieve justice. We filed a separate appeal hoping that the presence of Daniel’s family in the court will remind the judges of the magnitude of the crime, the brutality of the murder and the kind of human being Daniel was. Unfortunately, due to age and health conditions we cannot physically appear in court; but through our legal counsel, Daniel’s presence will be faithfully represented.

TNS: In your recent video message you said, “In our grief, we dedicated ourselves to building bridges with Pakistan, hosting Pakistani journalists in our home, sponsoring music concerts in Pakistan and nurturing lifelong friendships”. Do you think what you have been doing has had an effect?

JP: We want to believe that the bridges we have built had something to do with the support we are currently getting from so many Pakistanis. After all, when you befriend one journalist you befriend thousands of readers.

TNS: What would you like to say to the people in Pakistan?

JP: May justice prevail, and may your children enjoy a country free of terror and violence, knowing that their parents laboured hard to provide them with a better future.

The writer is Islamabad based journalist, researcher and media trainer. A former Daniel Pearl/AFPP fellow, he shared in The LA Times’ 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He tweets @AounSahi

“We are hoping to achieve justice”, says Daniel Pearl's father