The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined calls for Pakistan to lift the travel ban imposed on a leading newspaper columnist in the wake of his story on a confrontational meeting between leaders of the country’s civilian government and the military.
Cyril Almeida, assistant editor of the English-language daily newspaper Dawn, learned on Monday that he had been placed on Pakistan’s “exit control list”, one day before he was due to leave the country for a long-planned holiday in Dubai with his family.
“I am told and have been informed and have been shown evidence that I am on the Exit Control List,” Almeida tweeted that night. He added: “Puzzled, saddened. Had no intention of going anywhere; this is my home. Pakistan.”
Under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance 1981, the Pakistani government has the authority to bar citizens whose names appear on the list from leaving the country.
Almeida’s story, titled “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military,” described an Oct. 3 meeting in which leaders of the country’s elected government issued a “blunt warning” to the military that Pakistan faced growing international isolation unless the army cracked down on Islamist militant groups that carry out attacks from Pakistan on India and Afghanistan, including Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network.
Citing anonymous sources, the story said civilian leaders also called on the military not to interfere when government law enforcement agencies attempt to take action against the militant groups.
The government denounced Almeida’s story three times, calling it “misleading and factually incorrect” and an “amalgamation of fiction and fabrication”.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said that top civilian and military leaders – including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General Rizwan Akhtar and Army Chief of Staff Raheel Sharif – met on Monday and that “the participants were unanimous that the published story was clearly violative of universally acknowledged principles of reporting on national security issues and has risked the vital state interest through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents”.
The statement further said “[the] Prime Minister took serious notice of the violation and directed that those responsible should be identified for stern action”.
Dawn’s editor, Zaffar Abbas, issued a statement on the paper’s Facebook page saying that he stood by Almeida’s report, maintaining that it was “verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”.
On Tuesday, Almeida tweeted that he was concerned the government is “planning to take further, uglier actions”.
IPI Executive Board Member Owais Aslam Ali, Chairman of Pakistan Press International (PPI) and Secretary General of the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), said Pakistan should immediately lift the ongoing travel ban against Almeida.
“The ban on international travel imposed by the government on a senior journalist for a news report of public interest is completely unacceptable,” he said. “Such actions undermine the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press and the government should immediately remove the name of Cyril Almeida from the Exit Control List.”
IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis agreed.
“Pakistan should immediately revoke the travel ban on Mr. Almeida and cease the threats directed against him in the name of national security. The country’s journalists must be allowed to investigate sensitive subjects and carry out their duty to inform the public without fear or intimidation.”