Pakistan sent out a serious warning on Friday for media outlets which publish reports against the national interest. Despite the strict prohibition on press freedom of speech, Pakistan still lifted a travel ban previously imposed on a prominent journalist over an article he wrote about an alleged rift between the country’s government and powerful military.
The Interior Ministry said Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist and assistant editor of the Dawn newspaper, was being removed from the Exit Control List as a “good-will gesture” but an inquiry into the “inaccurate and fabricated” article would continue. The military’s press wing issued a separate statement calling the article a “breach of national security”. Almeida declined to comment.
Dawn, Pakistan’s most respected English-language daily, has said it stands by the Oct. 6 report, which it said was verified with multiple sources.
Quoting anonymous sources, the story described a tense meeting where civilian government officials called for the military not to interfere if law enforcement authorities tried to arrest members of anti-India militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
It immediately caused an uproar in a country where the armed forces have overthrown several civilian governments and at a time when Pakistan is facing ramped-up accusations of supporting militants.
The government has issued three denials of the story, and on Monday it placed a travel ban on Almeida under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance 1981.
Friday’s decision to lift the travel ban came after a visit to the Interior Ministry by Pakistani media editors and publishers.
An Interior Ministry 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”.
The military said the Dawn article was also condemned in Friday’s Corps Commanders Conference 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 military’s press wing said.
Pakistan ranks 147th of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. At least 59 journalists have been killed in targeted attacks since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.