The Pakistani journalist is famous for his diligence in reporting militant activities in his country
The International Press Institute (IPI) has named Cyril Almeida, an editor and columnist at Dawn, the oldest and most widely-read English newspaper in Pakistan, as its 71st World Press Freedom Hero.
Almeida is facing treason charges in Pakistan for his tenacious coverage of the state patronage of militant groups in the country.
The IPI also announced the Egyptian news site Mada Masr as the recipient of 2019 Free Media Pioneer Award. Mada Masr has courageously defied Egypt’s media crackdown to deliver independent, investigative news to a public otherwise starved of it.
Both awards, which for the past five years have been given in partnership with and International Media Support (IMS), will be presented during a special ceremony on June 5 in Geneva, Switzerland, during IPI’s annual World Congress and General Assembly.
IPI’s World Press Freedom Hero Award honours journalists who have made significant contributions to the promotion of press freedom, particularly in the face of great personal risk.
A Rhodes scholar with a law degree from Oxford University, Almeida briefly worked as a lawyer in Pakistan before entering journalism. After joining Dawn, he quickly gained a reputation as one of the country’s most brilliant analysts.
His critical coverage of Pakistan’s powerful military and its direct or indirect involvement in political affairs – an extraordinarily risky and, for many, a taboo subject in the country – that has won him admiration and legions of followers.
In 2016, Almeida was banned from leaving the country after publishing an exclusive story in Dawn on a rift between Pakistan’s civilian government and the military over the latter’s protection of certain extremist groups. The story prompted enormous controversy in Pakistan. Both Almeida and Dawn’s top editor were subjected to a widespread smear campaign and dragged before a military-initiated tribunal in an effort to force Dawn to reveal its sources.
Last year, Almeida was charged with treason and again banned from leaving the country after publishing an interview with former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in which Sharif indirectly suggested that Pakistan’s military aided the militants who carried out the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, which led to 160 deaths. Proceedings in the case remain open.
Treason is a potentially capital offence in Pakistan.
“Press freedom in Pakistan is 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,” Almeida said. “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.
“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.”