The case of Cyril Almeida

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Veteran journalist Cyril Almeida has been provided some relief in the treason case as the Lahore High Court has ordered that the journalist’s name be removed from the Exit Control List (ECL) and the warrants withdrawn. The Dawn’s staffer’s interview with former premier Nawaz Sharif got him involved in the treason case as the latter had admitted that militants from Pakistan had infiltrated into India. Reportedly, the main reason for taking this extreme step is that the story has directly affected the reputation of the country at the national and international level. It has been alleged that the narrative of Pakistan enemies regarding the non-state actors was published in the interview.

In fact, government circles themselves have managed to build a wrong perception regarding the story, which was no more than a piece of writing based on an interview about a common challenge. The story gained worldwide attention due to the flawed response of the government. Government needs to give respect to the fundamental right of freedom of speech, and it should not attach it with the national security. Freedom of expression and forums of public opinion are essential elements of democracy and need to be given space for sthe urvival of democratic norms.

And in that process, there is always room for rebuttal, not a legal inquiry and putting of a journalist’s name on ECL, a step that is for those who kill, perpetrate acts of terrorism or steal from the treasury of Pakistan. Has Cyril Almeida committed any of these heinous crimes? There is, however, a long list of people who have committed these crimes, and are still operating with impunityi in Pakistan, free to travel as and when they wish. Within and outside Pakistan. The case of Cyril Almeida is another example of curbs on media. In most of the states, journalists are constitutionally protected, and the latter is practically ensured. But in states like Pakistan, it’s all the opposite. The protection is only limited to paperwork because article 19 of the constitution has never been practically implemented. This can be imagined by the fact that Pakistan has been ranked third deadliest country, by the International Federation of Journalists. Placing a journalist on the ECL for simply doing his job is a reflection of the shrinking space for an honest debate on issues that may be uncomfortable for those who delineate domestic and foreign policies of Pakistan. And that is what acts as a tarnishing agent for Pakistan’s already fragile position in the comity of nations regionally and internationally.

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