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Pak journalist barred from leaving country after report on national security

A Pakistan journalist who reported on differences between the civilian government and the powerful military on tackling terrorists was on Monday barred from travelling out of the country.

world Updated: Oct 11, 2016 21:57 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times
Cyril Almeida,Pakistan journalist,Nawaz Sharif
The report said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had directed authorities to conclude the probe into the Pathankot attack and resume the stalled Mumbai attacks case as Pakistan faces growing international isolation(AFP Photo)

A senior journalist of Pakistan’s influential Dawn newspaper who reported on disagreements between the civilian government and the military on tackling terrorism has been barred from travelling out of the country.

Cyril Almeida, whose Karachi-based family has its roots in Goa, created a buzz in Pakistan and India by reporting on October 6 that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government had delivered a “blunt” warning to the powerful military about the country facing growing international isolation if it failed to tackle militants.

The government and the military rejected the report. The civilian leadership was so rattled by the report it issued three denials, including one after a meeting between the premier and Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Monday.

Soon after, Almeida tweeted he had been shown evidence that he was on the “Exit Control List” (ECL), which has the names of people barred from leaving Pakistan. The ECL is a border control system maintained under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance.

The denial said the civil and military leadership “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 interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts”.

The civil and military leadership said the media should refrain “from speculative reporting and issues of national security and interests of the state”. The Prime Minister “took serious notice of the violation and directed that those responsible should be identified for stern action”.

However, Dawn’s editor Zafar Abbas said Almeida’s report “was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”. He added that “many at the helm of affairs are aware of the senior officials, and participants of the meeting, who were contacted by the newspaper for collecting information, and more than one source confirmed and verified the details”.

Abbas said the “elected government and state institutions should refrain from targeting the messenger, and scapegoating the country’s most respected newspaper in a malicious campaign”.

Read | Is the face off between ISI and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif for real?

Political analyst Zahid Khan was among writers and activists who condemned the government’s move. Khan, however, said Almeida should not have used anonymous sources. Another writer, Mohsin Sayeed, said Almeida was fed the information by the government, which wanted to show the army in a bad light.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded the travel curbs on Almeida should be immediately withdrawn and the matter involving him dealt with in accordance with the law, due process and universally acknowledged freedom of expression

Amnesty International said Pakistan’s authorities “must immediately revoke a travel ban on a leading journalist and allow the media to operate freely and without fear”. It described the move as a “crude intimidation tactic” designed to silence journalists.

Many Pakistanis and journalists around the world used the hashtag #StandWithCyril on Twitter to defend Almeida.

Read | Pakistan govt ‘tells’ army to act on militants: 3 ways to read the Dawn report

First Published: Oct 11, 2016 01:59 IST