Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission on Tuesday demanded immediate removal of all restrictions on prominent journalist Cyril Almeida who has been barred from leaving the country after reporting on a rift between civilian and military leaderships during a key meeting. All restrictions must be immediately withdrawn and any grievance that the authorities might have against him (Cyril) must be dealt with in accordance with the law, due process and universally acknowledged freedoms of opinion and expression, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said.
“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,” it said.
“It seems that the authorities are overreacting to a story by Cyril, which touches on journalists’ responsibilities in times of trial,” the commission said in a statement.
HRCP said it believed that civil-military relations are not a subject beyond the concerns of working journalists or the people at large.
“The arbitrary placing of names on the Exit Control List (ECL) has been in debate for long and 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,” the commission said.
“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,” it said.
The commission demanded the immediately remove of Cyril’s name from the ECL and asked the government to refrain from harassing him and intimidation of his employers.
“We must also stress that whatever matters are of concern to the establishment must be dealt with in accordance with the law, freedom of expression and other rights of citizens, particularly with regard to the due legal process,” it said.
Cyril’s story ‘Act against militants or face international isolation’ in the October 6 edition of ‘Dawn’ created quite a stir in the government and military circles.
The PML-N government issued at least four clarifications (of the story) and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered investigation against those who leaked information of the National Security Council meeting to Cyril.
Cyril’s front-page story in the widely-read daily was about a rift between Pakistan’s civilian and military leaderships over jihadi groups operating from Pakistan but engage in war against India and Afghanistan.