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Pakistan bans Catholic reporter from travelling abroad

Journalist under fire for reporting on a rift between civilian, government and military

Pakistan bans Catholic reporter from travelling abroad

Pakistani soldiers outside a Pakistan Air Force base after an attack by militants in Peshawar on Sept. 18, 2015. A Pakistani reporter from an English-language newspaper has been banned from leaving his country after he reported on problematic issues between the civilian government and the military. (Photo by AFP)

Church officials have offered support to a Catholic journalist banned from leaving Pakistan after reporting on a rift between the government and the military over jihadist groups.

Cyril Almeida, an Islamabad-based assistant editor for English-language newspaper, Dawn, tweeted that his name has been placed on an exit control list.

"Puzzled, saddened. Had no intention of going anywhere; this is my home. Pakistan," Almeida tweeted on Oct. 11. "I feel sad tonight. This is my life, my country. What went wrong?"

In his article published Oct. 6, Almedia narrated "an extraordinary verbal confrontation" over Pakistan's diplomatic isolation — due to the presence of terrorist groups in the country — between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and General Rizwan Akhtar, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

Almedia quoted anonymous sources that said Sharif accused the security establishment of releasing people with suspected involvement in militant groups who had been arrested by civilian authorities.

Neighboring countries as well as the United States have long been urging Pakistan to take action against banned terror outfits in the country.

The Office of the Prime Minister has issued three consecutive statements denying the story and calling it a fabrication.

Father Qaier Feroz, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Commission for Social Communications, expressed support for Almedia.

"The government should protect journalists instead of shielding non-state actors", Father Feroz told "We support freedom of expression and speech, the basic human rights. Action against the journalist exposes a lack of will to fight terror groups."

According to Father Morris Jalal, the founder and program director of Lahore-based, Catholic TV, the journalist touched a very sensitive issue by reporting on the civil-military relationship.

"Things can get ugly. Almedia only reported what the foreign secretary stated in an earlier report. We stand with media for rightly checking the pulse of the current situation," Father Jalal said.

"Putting a ban on terror groups is not enough, they must be completely stopped from operating in the country. We must regain the trust of international community," he added.

The Dawn newspaper has also stood by their reporter and his story.

"The story that has been rejected by Prime Minister's Office as a fabrication was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked," said Dawn in an open statement.

 "Second, 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," the newspaper said.

 The elected government and state institutions should refrain from targeting the messenger and making the country's most respected newspaper a scapegoat in a malicious campaign, it said.

The All Pakistan Newspaper Society, a body of major newspaper owners, has condemned the government's decision to place Almeida on the exit control list and demanded that the action be immediately revised.

Muslim media workers have individually shown support for Almeida via social media.

Najam Sethi, a senior analyst tweeted: "Civ-Mil Estab has given the international media a bigger story by stupidly targeting Cyril/Dawn. Media must stand by [them]."

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan  likewise voiced their concern over Almeida's exit ban and what it means for freedom of expression.

"We realize that Pakistan is passing through difficult times but we are convinced, more than ever, that wisdom lies in respecting the freedom of expression rather than suppressing it, because neither national unity can be achieved nor any issues of governance resolved by finding scapegoats among journalist," said the commission in a statement.

Pakistan has been ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with a total of 115 killings since 1990, according to a 2016 report by the International Federation of Journalists.

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