On October 10, 2016, the government indicated to his employer and other sources that Cyril Almeida, a journalist with the major daily newspaper Dawn, had been placed on an Exit-Control List (ECL), barring him from traveling outside the country. The travel ban was in response to an October 6 news story by Almeida regarding tensions between the civilian government and military authorities, which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said was misleading and violated national security.
“Attempts to intimidate and threaten journalists is a misguided, unlawful response to whatever disagreements the Prime Minister’s Office had with the news report,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should lift the travel ban on Cyril Almeida immediately.”
Analyst and author of Military Inc, Ayesha Siddiqa, told CNN that Almeida’s placement on the Exit Control List is “against the norms of democracy.”
“Pakistan can be a dangerous place for journalists, but the nation has a proud tradition of a fiercely independent press,” said Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Unhappiness with a press report should never be used as an excuse to restrict the freedom of a journalist.”
There have been reports of a seat adjustment agreement between the current ruling party and the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a proscribed sectarian organization that has spread anti-Shia hatred for decades, notes Umair Jamal, a research fellow with the Lahore-based Centre for Governance and Policy and a correspondent for The Diplomat:
Raza Rumi [a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO], in his newly published book, The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition notes that in Pakistan, “the most disturbing political feature is the kowtowing to militant outfits by local political parties for electoral gains. Most notably, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has entered into local, unwritten agreements with the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. Such an alliance may favor the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the short term, but would have a high cost to Pakistani society overall.”