Pakistan bars entry of Committee to Protect Journalists Asia coordinator citing 'stop list': statement

Updated October 18, 2019

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Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler's passport confiscated by Lahore airport authorities, CPJ statement says. — Photo courtesy CPJ website
Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler's passport confiscated by Lahore airport authorities, CPJ statement says. — Photo courtesy CPJ website

Pakistan’s immigration authorities barred entry of Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler, saying that his name had been placed on a 'stop list', a press statement issued by the body said on Thursday.

"Last [Wednesday] night, Pakistani immigration authorities denied entry to CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler, citing a blacklist managed by the Ministry of Interior," the CPJ statement said.

"A border officer at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore told Butler that his journalist visa was valid, but it was voided because his name was 'on a stop list of the Interior Ministry'," it quoted Butler as saying.

According to the statement, Butler's passport was "confiscated" by airport authorities and he was forced to board a flight bound for Doha. When he arrived in Doha, authorities there placed him on a flight to Washington, DC, the statement read further.

While on the flight, Butler told the CPJ that the flight crew had seized his passport and boarding pass and that he was in "a kind of restrictive custody".

"Pakistani authorities’ move to block Steven Butler from entering the country is baffling and is a slap in the face to those concerned about press freedom in the country," the statement quoted CPJ’s executive director Joel Simon as saying.

"Pakistani authorities should give a full explanation of their decision to bar Butler from entering and correct this error. If the government is interested in demonstrating its commitment to a free press, it should conduct a swift and transparent investigation into this case."

Butler had landed in Lahore to participate in the Asma Jahangir Conference — Roadmap for Human Rights in Pakistan, said the statement.

In September, CPJ had expressed concern about a plan to form "media courts" in the country.

Last year, the organisation released a special report after recording testimonies of journalists in various cities of Pakistan. They said that the climate for press freedom in the country had been deteriorating, even as overall violence against and murder of journalists declined.

CPJ said that journalists, including freelancers, had "painted a picture of a media under siege".

'Alarming sign'

Rights organisations Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Amnesty International expressed alarm over Butler's deportation and said that the decision should be "reevaluated" and "reversed".

In a tweet, HRCP said that it was "disappointed by the government's decision" to deport Butler, adding that the decision "must be reevaluated".

"On one hand, the government claims to be building a softer image of Pakistan. On the other, it refuses entry to a reputed international journalist with a valid visa," HRCP said in a tweet.

Amnesty International also criticised the move, saying that the deportation of the CPJ official was "an alarming sign that freedom of expression continues to be under attack in Pakistan".

"The decision must be reversed immediately," the rights group demanded in a tweet.