Date: January 05, 1999
Contact: Stephen B. Collins
Zafaryab Ahmed, the journalist recently released by the Pakistani government so he could accept a human rights fellowship in Maine, will make his first public address at 4 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11, at Colby College in Waterville.
Ahmed will speak on the dichotomy between what he sees as a universal desire for justice and human rights that transcends political borders, on one hand, and the nationalistic interests that permit widespread injustices and abuses to persist, on the other. The talk will be in Page Commons Room of Cotter Union, and it is open to the public free of charge.
He will describe problems that need to be solved to redress human rights abuses, he said. Among them are the complicity and responsibility of consumers when it comes to unscrupulous manufacturing practices and the United States government's double standard of ignoring abuses by U.S. allies while criticizing and punishing those of other nations.
Ahmed arrived at Colby College on December 15 to accept the inaugural fellowship of the Oak Foundation for the Study of International Human Rights. His arrival was delayed almost half a year because he is still awaiting trial on charges of sedition for his writings in Pakistan and, as a result, he is still on the country's Exit Control List. Ahmed was jailed in 1995 but was released on bail and has been out of prison awaiting trial. If convicted of sedition, the only possible penalty under Pakistan's laws is execution, he said.
Ahmed angered his government and was accused of being an agent of India when he wrote about the plight of children who work in deplorable conditions in Pakistan's manufacturing industries and when he covered the death of Iqbal Masih, a 14-year-old who escaped from a life of bondage to crusade against the use of child laborers. During Ahmed's incarceration Amnesty International declared him a "prisoner of conscience." The organization named him one of 11 defenders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it still maintains an "urgent action" plea on his behalf.
Ahmed, who studied in England for several years and speaks fluent English, was chosen from more than 70 nominees as Colby's first Oak Human Rights Fellow but was unable to accept the position last fall. After months of delay and international pleas for his release, Pakistan's prime minister agreed to give him a 90-day permit to travel to accept the fellowship at Colby, with the condition that he return in February to Pakistan, where he still faces the sedition charge and a possible death sentence.