The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday demanded the government immediately withdraw all restrictions on Dawn staffer Cyril Almeida and address grievances “in accordance with the law, due process and universally acknowledged freedoms of opinion and expression.”
“Barring Cyril Almeida from travelling abroad and the apparent pressure on his employers, the highly respected Dawn newspaper, will cause distress to all those, at home and abroad, who believe in the freedom of expression and the rights of journalists. This is not the time to turn the international journalist community against Pakistan,” the HRCP said.
“It seems that the authorities are overreacting to a story by Cyril, which touches on journalists’ responsibilities in times of trial. HRCP believes that civil-military relations are not a subject beyond the concerns of working journalists or the people at large.”
Cyril Almeida, who wrote the news report “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”, was put on the country’s Exit Control List (ECL) after the Prime Minister’s Office issued three contradictions to the report.
The HRCP statement calls upon the authorities to remove Almeida’s name from the ECL and “refrain from harassing him and intimidation of his employers.”
The HRCP statement said, “Under the revised thinking on the matter it has been decided that any person whose freedom of movement is to be curtailed must be heard before his name is added to the ECL.”
“We realise that Pakistan is passing through difficult times but we are convinced, more than ever, that wisdom lies in respecting the freedom of expression rather than suppressing it, because neither national unity can be achieved nor any issues of governance resolved by finding scapegoats among journalists,” the statement said.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) also flayed the inclusion of Almeida’s name on the ECL, terming it violation of Article 19 of the Constitution that ensures freedom of press.
“Putting the name of Mr Cyril on the ECL does not suit the democratically elected government,” the PFUJ said.
“It is tantamount to harassment of journalists which is unacceptable to the PFUJ,” said Chairman Ad Hoc Committee PFUJ Muhammad Riaz.
“We have serious concerns about his safety and security,” said Riaz.
In an Editor’s note, Dawn clarified its position and stated on the record several things:
First, this newspaper considers it a sacred oath to its readers to pursue its reporting fairly, independently and, above all, accurately. The story that has been rejected by Prime Minister’s Office as a fabrication was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked.
Second, many at the helm of affairs are aware of the senior officials, and participants of the meeting who were contacted by the newspaper for collecting information, and more than one source confirmed and verified the details.
Therefore, the elected government and state institutions should refrain from targeting the messenger, and scape-goating the country’s most respected newspaper in a malicious campaign.