Contact: Stephen Collins
Pakistani journalist and human rights activist Zafaryab Ahmed received permission this week to leave Pakistan for 90 days to travel to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where he will be the first Oak Human Rights Fellow. That break in the stalemate over Ahmed's status came this week as Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, visited Washington for summit meetings with the Clinton administration and the matter was raised by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Colby President William R. Cotter said, "Rosemary Gutierrez from Senator Harkin's office called me to say that the Senator personally handed my letter to the Pakistan Prime Minister when they met at the Blair House. 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 Bhutto was prime minister. The Prime Minister's brother was in the room and smiled and said he well remembered."
David Leavy, a 1992 Colby graduate who is a special assistant to the President and spokesman for the National Security Council, pushed the matter onto the White House agenda last Wednesday.
Ahmed, Colby officials, U.S. government officials and human rights organizations have been working since August to secure his freedom to travel. Up to now he has been denied that freedom because his name is on Pakistan's "Exit Control List" as a result of sedition charges leveled when his activities angered government officials in 1995.
Cotter received word from Harkin's office Wednesday that Pakistani officials offered the 90-day travel permission, and State Department officials corroborated the offer. Terms of the permission require Ahmed to agree to return to Pakistan at the end of the 90-day period.
"This is not quite a total vindication," said Oak Institute Director Kenneth Rodman, a Colby government professor, who noted that the college and Ahmed were hoping for withdrawal of the treason charges and the removal of Ahmed's name from the Exit Control List. "But it is a tremendous victory after many months of frustration, and we are looking forward to Zafaryab's arrival at Colby." Eliza Denoeux, associate director of the Oak Institute, said the victory was the result of persistence by dedicated individuals who worked through the summer and fall on Ahmed's behalfóSenator Harkin among them. Denoeux credited Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and their staffs for consistent help, and said several State Department officials had quietly worked long and hard on the problem. Representative Tom Allen had been involved and non-governmental organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, the Journalist Resource Center in Lahore, Pakistan, and individual journalists who covered the story contributed.
Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press correspondent who spent almost seven years as a hostage imprisoned by Islamic radicals in Lebanon and who is now vice chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, issued a statement November 12. "Pakistan should be proud of this journalist for achieving such international recognition and must not allow Zafaryab Ahmed's case to languish further in an endless cycle of court appearances and postponements and deferred judgments," said Anderson.