An inquiry will be conducted into the placement of Dawn staffer Cyril Almeida's name on the Exit Control List (ECL), Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar announced Thursday, after which "everyone will be allowed to travel freely."
Nisar, while addressing a press conference in the capital, stated that a complete investigation should always be carried out before any Pakistani's name is put on the ECL.
"The inquiry will end in three to four days and then everyone will be allowed to travel freely," he said.
"Had we not put the central character [Almeida] on the ECL, we would had been blamed for letting him go," he said, adding that the action had been taken as the journalist had booked a plane ticket for the next morning and was going to travel abroad.
Referring, to the story, the interior minister said, "An attempt has been made to adversely impact a critical national security paradigm, so there should be an inquiry... Indian media used the report, saying that publication of the story verifies the Indian narrative of Pakistani dealings with non-state actors."
Nisar alleged that the news was inaccurate. He questioned, "Who leaked this inaccurate news? It was published at the behest of someone, and that will be uncovered... they will be brought to justice. But how can that person be brought to justice, if we allow the journalist to leave the country?" he asked.
"We had no other option but to put his name on the ECL as he was travelling abroad the next day."
The interior minister said he would have a meeting with senior APNS and CPNE officials in the capital regarding the matter.
The story, the backlash
Almeida's name was added to the Exit Control List – preventing travel abroad – on Monday after he wrote the news report "Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military". The Prime Minister's Office rejected the story thrice since it was published on October 6.
In an Editor's note, Dawn clarified its position and stated on the record that the story "was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked."
The note further stated 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. Therefore, the elected government and state institutions should refrain from targeting the messenger, and scape-goating the country’s most respected newspaper in a malicious campaign."
Also read: Editorial: Reaction to Dawn story
In the wake of the travel ban on Almeida, human rights and journalists' organisations including the HRCP, PFUJ and CPNE protested and rallied in his support. Most TV news channels also ran reports and conducted programs criticising the government's decision.
Nisar announces e-passports
During the news conference, the interior minister announced the launch of a new e-passport renewal service which would provide an opportunity to overseas Pakistanis to apply for passports online.
“In the first phase, the online passport service would be for overseas Pakistanis and after six months it would also be available inside Pakistan,” said Nisar.
He added that in a year or two the service would be expanded across Pakistan.
The interior minister on the occasion also appreciated the work done by the passport office and NADRA officials for introducing the online service and taking measures to facilitate citizens applying for passports and identity cards.
“I have continued to receive complaints of extortion and large crowds at NADRA offices, further steps would be taken to provide more facilities to people.”
In the initial phase which would start from June 2017, e-passports would be issued to officials and diplomats. The government plans to issue e-passports across Pakistan within two years.
“We want the passports to be issued for a period of 10 years to reduce the burden on the passport office and the public,” said the interior minister.
He added the step would minimise misuse of Pakistani passports, and also said the government plans to set-up a passport office in every district of the country.