Cyril Almeida, assistant editor and regular columnist of Dawn News faced a travel ban as his name was put on the exit control list after he published a story about civil-military tensions.
The story published at Dawn on October 6, 2016, discussed the growing tension and disagreements between the government and top military leadership. Within hours Almeida’s name was placed in ECL according to the directions of the government of Pakistan.
This initiated a storm in the local and international media as people protested over this unjust act. Many prominent international news organizations like Al-Jazeera, CNN, BBC raised concern over the issue as putting a journalist’s name in exit control list based on a news story is clearly a violation of freedom of speech.
Daily Dawn Editor Zafar Abbas issued a statement that Almeida’s story was “verified, cross-checked and fact checked” He also emphasized that the government should stop targeting the messenger rather should focus on the actual culprits.
Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told CNN in an interview that putting a journalist’s name in ECL only because of factual reporting is against the norms of democracy
Many renowned Pakistani journalists also raised their voice against this injustice. A Host of the popular TV show, Shahzeb Khanzada tweeted that while banned outfits can roam around freely, journalists are put in ECL for reporting a story. Syed Talat Hussain, an eminent journalist tweeted, such action by the government is ridiculous and unacceptable.
Journalist-activist Matiullah Jan said civilian government’s own weakness have promoted this entire story further.
Important political figures including senator Sherry Rehman tweeted that whether a story is poorly sourced or spot on, journalism does not merit a travel ban.
Immediately after Cyril Almeida’s travel ban broke out, an outrage was seen on twitter and the hashtag #standwithcyril was used by over a million people around the world.
International organizations also staged protest over this illogical act, Amnesty international denounced the act and termed it as “crude intimidation tactic.” According to Amnesty international such acts are performed by governments in order to silence journalists and deviate attention from actual issues.
The organization reinforced the fact that Pakistani government must break the tradition of unjust behavior with journalists and should stop subjecting media to restrictions.
Amnesty International further demanded that the travel ban on Cyril Almeida should be dropped immediately.
Amnesty International Global issue Director passed an important statement referring to the Almeida incident in Pakistan as he said,
It is one thing for the authorities to dispute and contradict a media report. But it is quite another to threaten a journalist under the guise of national security.
Not only news and human right organizations but countries have expressed their concerns as well. The United States raised its concerns over freedom and security of journalists in Pakistan .
Spokesperson for the US State department John Kerby stated,
On press freedom, it’s obviously an issue that we continue to raise regularly with the government of Pakistan, including our concerns about the difficulties and the dangers that journalists face there. We are concerned about any efforts to limit press freedom or the ability of journalists to conduct their very, very important work.
After the growing international and national pressure, the government is now in a fix and trying to find a middle ground. On the other hand, various local organizations such as Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors are demanding a reversal of the decision by the government. The council of editors believes that the constitution gives us freedom of speech and if the government finds any discrepancies in the story then it should adopt a legal approach rather than doing such acts.
Now only time can tell that whether journalists will be targeted for using their basic human right i.e freedom of expression or will this era of injustice finally end. Some questions remain unanswered!