Colby Magazine - Winter 1998 Give That Fellow a Hand
Zafaryab Ahmed Aided by White House involvement and the intervention of a U.S. senator, Colby's first Oak Human Rights Fellow, detained journalist Zafaryab Ahmed, received a special permit early in December to leave his native Pakistan. After months of frustration trying to get Ahmed to Maine, the College got his case raised at the highest level--a state visit to Washington by Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in early December. Whether the crusading journalist will get to see Mayflower Hill was still in doubt when Colby went to press, however.
    Ahmed was supposed to arrive in August to begin the inaugural fellowship of the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights. Having been charged with treason for his human rights work, though, he remains on Pakistan's Exit Control List, and despite the pleas of private, diplomatic and non-governmental organizations he has been unable to leave his country legally.
    That changed December 2 when President Bill Cotter learned from Senator Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) office that Pakistan had granted Ahmed permission to travel for 90 days. "Rosemary Gutierrez from Senator Harkin's office called me to say that the senator personally handed my letter to the Pakistan prime minister," Cotter reported. "Senator Harkin reminded the prime minister that he (Harkin) had helped get the prime minister's brother off of the same `Exit Control List' when [Benazir] Bhutto was prime minister. The Prime Minister's brother, who was in the room, smiled and said he well remembered."
    David Leavy '92, a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and spokesman for the National Security Council, also pushed the matter onto the White House agenda, and Cotter received word of the provisional travel permission that afternoon.
    As Colby officials scrambled in the second week of December to make arrangements for Ahmed's anticipated arrival, the victory celebration was tempered by several troubling conditions that came to light. Oak Institute Director Kenneth Rodman, professor of government, said, "We're happy that the Pakistani government has offered this waiver, but it carries some conditions that are very unfair." He said he was still trying to negotiate the terms of the waiver. Ahmed's passport was still in government custody and visas had not been issued when the 90-day window began, and the waiver put future restrictions on Ahmed's travel as well.
    Eliza Denoeux, associate director of the Oak Institute, said the apparent breakthrough was the result of persistence by individuals who worked through the fall on Ahmed's behalf. Denoeux credited Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and their staffs (including Mark Adelman '97, director of correspondence for Senator Snowe) for consistent help over the last six months. She said several State Department officials had quietly worked long and hard on the problem and non-governmental organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International and the Journalist Resource Center in Lahore, Pakistan, also contributed.
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