Pakistan lifts travel ban on prominent journalist

While announcing the decision to lift the travel ban on Cyril Almeida, Pakistan's Interior Ministry statement warns other journalists to "counter negative propaganda of the enemies of state".


The Pakistani government had put the Cyril Almeida's (above) name on the Exit Control List (ECL), following his report about an alleged rift between the the country's powerful military and its civilian government.

Pakistan lifted travel restriction on journalist Cyril Almeida as a "good-will gesture" but an inquiry into the columnist's  "inaccurate and fabricated" article would continue, the country's Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The decision to lift the travel ban on Almedia came after Pakistani media editors and publishers made a visit to the Federal Interior Ministry.

The statement also warned other journalists that "independent media must play its role not only towards safeguarding national interests and security but also to counter negative propaganda of the enemies of state".

Almeida is a leading columnist and assistant editor in the country’s most respected and biggest English-language newspaper, Dawn. The newspaper was set up by the country's founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The Pakistani government had put the journalist name in the Exit Control List (ECL), following his report which was labelled by the military as a "breach of national security."

Although the government's decision to place the travel ban was informally communicated to Almeida, the government took several days to make an official announcement over the issue.

Announcing the travel ban on Thursday Pakistan's Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had said an inquiry was being held that would determine whether the senior columnist should be prosecuted.

Almeida's October 6 story, quoting anonymous sources had described a high-level security meeting between officials of the military and the democratically elected government.

Masood Azhar was arrested in India in February 1994. But India was forced to release him and two others in Dec 1999 in exchange for passengers and crews of an Indian flight that was hijacked by militants from Kathmandu. Source: AFP/archive

The article alleged that during the meeting civilian government officials had asked the military not to interfere if law enforcement authorities acted against members of outlawed militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan has detained founders of the proscribed organisations several times in the past. JeM's Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attacks accused Hafiz Saeed of the LeT were released by courts for lack of evidence.

The story immediately caused an uproar in a country where the armed forces have overthrown several civilian governments. It also drew mixed response on social media with most supporting Almeida while others opposing him.

For years Pakistan has been accused of cracking down on only those militant groups which have turned their guns inward towards the state, while turning a blind eye towards those who fight for its strategic ends specifically in the disputed border regions with India and Afghanistan.

Several lawmakers of the country, including those belonging to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) political party, have recently called for action against the Let and JeM.

The government has issued three denial of the article, calling it as "a fabricated news story." Dawn carried the government's denial but also said it stands by the October 6 report, which it said was verified with multiple sources.

After the imposition of the ban, a large section of the Pakistani media, human rights activists and journalists' unions had protested the government's decision and rallied in support of Almeida.

Pakistani military's media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations issued a statement on Friday about a Corps Commander’s Conference on Friday that mostly discussed relations with India and the fight against militants. 

"Participants expressed their serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated story of an important security meeting held at PM house and viewed it as breach of national security," the statement said.

The statement did not specify how the national security was compromised by the article.

Pakistan's press is vibrant, but rights activists say reporting on national security issues is heavily controlled. Source: AFP/archive

Pakistan ranks 147th of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index. According to Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 59 journalist have been killed in the country since 1992.

Almeida's article also came at a sensitive time for the military after its arch-rival India claimed it had crossed into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to carry out "surgical strikes" in September. Pakistan had denied the Indian claim.

The disputed Kashmir region has been divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan since they gained independence from Britain seven decades ago.

India is also seeking to diplomatically isolate Pakistan following a raid on one of its bases in Indian-administered Kashmir's Uri town that killed 19 soldiers, with New Delhi claiming the group behind the raid was based in Pakistan. 



TRTWorld and agencies