The International Press Institute (IPI) has honoured Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida with its World Press Freedom Hero Award for his “critical” and “tenacious” coverage of the country’s civil-military relations. IPI gives this award to journalists “who have made significant contributions to the promotion of press freedom, particularly in the face of great personal risk”.
In a tweet, IPI posted: “IPI and @forfreemedia today are proud to announce @dawn_com editor and columnist Cyril Almeida (@cyalm), who faces treason charges for his tenacious coverage of militancy in #Pakistan, as IPI’s 71st World Press Freedom Hero.”
IPI and @forfreemedia today are proud to announce @dawn_com editor and columnist Cyril Almeida (@cyalm), who faces treason charges for his tenacious coverage of militancy in #Pakistan, as IPI’s 71st World Press Freedom Hero.
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) April 24, 2019
In 2016, Almeida, an Assistant Editor with Dawn newspaper, was banned from leaving Pakistan after the daily published his exclusive story on a rift between the country’s civilian government and the military establishment over protection given by the latter of some extremist groups. IPI said Almeida’s report had made both him and Dawn a target.
“In particular, it is Almeida’s critical coverage of Pakistan’s powerful military and its direct or indirect involvement in political affairs – an extraordinarily risky and, for many, taboo subject in the country – that has won him admiration and legions of followers,” the Vienna-based IPI said in a statement, adding that he was “read by everyone who matters in Pakistan”.
Charged with treason last year, the institute said, Almeida was once again banned from leaving Pakistan after Dawn published his interview with former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who indirectly suggested the involvement of the country’s military in carrying out the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Quoting Almeida, the IPI statement said press freedom in Pakistan was under “severe and sustained attack, without precedent during eras of civilian governments and the worst in the country since an oppressive military dictatorship in the 1980s”. “The state’s tolerance for and patronage of externally focused militant groups and a renewed erosion of democracy by the predominant military are issues of fundamental public importance – but coverage and commentary on those issues in the independent media now draws severe state retaliation.”
Almeida added: “I am grateful to the IPI-IMS jury for its acknowledgment of the fight to preserve and protect media freedom in Pakistan. What has been inflicted on Dawn and me is one strand of a wider, systemic repression of the media in Pakistan.”
Barbara Trionfi, IPI Executive Director, said Almeida embodied the dedication to press freedom. “Cyril Almeida has demonstrated tremendous resolve in tackling – at great risk to himself – deeply contentious issues that are nevertheless of central importance to Pakistan’s democracy, not least the role of the military in shaping the country’s present and future.”
She added: “The response to his reporting has been a campaign of intolerance and state repression. Despite the press freedom crisis engulfing Pakistan, he, and Dawn newspaper, have refused to back down from writing about issues that matter.”
Trionfi also urged the authorities in Pakistan to “immediately drop all charges against Cyril Almeida”. “Bringing treason charges against a journalist for interviewing a former prime minister is as dangerous as it is absurd, and constitutes a gross violation of journalists’ right to disseminate information in the public interest.”
Almeida is a Rhodes scholar with a law degree from Oxford University. He had briefly worked as a lawyer before starting his career in journalism.
Almeida is the second World Press Freedom Hero from Pakistan. IPI has previously honoured Aslam Ali, the former managing director of Pakistan Press International, with the award.
On Wednesday, IPI and the International Media Support (IMS) also announced Egyptian news site Mada Masr as the winner of the 2019 Free Media Pioneer Award. The IPI said Mada Masr had courageously defied Egypt’s media crackdown “to deliver independent, investigative news to a public otherwise starved of it”.
The awards will be presented on June 5 at a special ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, during the IPI’s annual World Congress and General Assembly.