Date: September 1998
Contact: Stephen Collins
Fall classes began Wednesday at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, but without Zafaryab Ahmed, a Pakistani journalist who is supposed to be the inaugural recipient of the college's Oak Human Rights Fellowship. Ahmed remains in Pakistan, barred by his government from traveling. Charged with sedition after writing about the exploitation of children in Pakistani factories, he is awaiting a court ruling on whether he will be allowed to travel to the U.S. to fulfill the one-semester fellowship.
Also on Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of their colleagues around the world, renewed its campaign to secure for Ahmed what it called "the fundamental right to travel freely."
A letter sent Wednesday by the CPJ Executive Director Ann K. Cooper to Pakistan's Prime Minister, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad, said, "the CPJ is deeply troubled by the prolonged persecution of Ahmed on the basis that his reporting was a threat to national security. We are further disturbed by the failure of the justice system to respond to Ahmed's petitions."
The CPJ's plea concludes, "Because there seems to be no legal process through which Ahmed can clear his name, we respectfully ask that Your Excellency intervene to do everything within your power to ensure that the unproven allegations against Zafaryab Ahmed are dropped, and that he is freed to accept the fellowship he has been granted for his work to promote human rights. We look forward to your response."
Ahmed is barred from leaving the country following his arrest in 1995 on charges of sedition that were leveled after he wrote about child labor in Pakistan and about the murder of Iqbal Masih, a 12-year-old who helped expose working conditions, the CPJ letter explained.
After many delays, Ahmed finally had a hearing in a Pakastani courtroom in Lahore last Friday, according to Colby College Professor of Government Kenneth A. Rodman, director of the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights. Though Ahmed expressed hope that he would know early this week whether he could travel to Colby, Rodman said Thursday morning there was still no word on his fate.
Rodman said the CPJ initiative on Ahmed's behalf adds to pressure being applied through political, diplomatic and non-governmental channels. Amnesty International and the CPJ both initially took up Ahmed's case in 1995. In the past two weeks Rodman and Oak Institute Associate Director Eliza Denoeux solicited help from Maine's Congressional delegation, the State Department's Pakistan desk, the U.S. Information Agency and the U.S. Embassy in Lahore. Denoeux also appealed to Pakistan's embassy in Washington, urging officials there to help secure Ahmed's freedom to travel.