Media watchdog official ‘detained’ at Lahore airport

Published October 21, 2022
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler. — Photo courtesy CPJ website
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler. — Photo courtesy CPJ website

LAHORE: Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler on Thursday faced inconvenience for the second time while entering Pakistan in the last few years after he was detained by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for eight hours at the airport here.

Mr Butler arrived in the provincial capital to feature as a panelist at this year’s Asma Jahangir Conference to be held over the weekend.

Earlier in 2019 also, Mr Butler was not allowed to enter the country to participate in the same conference during the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government despite having a valid visa, as his name was blacklisted over a Washington Post column on the crackdown on media houses in Pakistan. He was sent back to the US on the next flight.

The journalist travelled to Lahore from New York with a no-objection certificate (NOC) issued by the Pakistan embassy in the US. He arrived at the Lahore International Airport at 1am on Thursday and was detained in a small room by the FIA officials till 9:30am.

Steven Butler denied entry for eight hours by FIA over ‘blacklisted’ name

The organisers of the conference got in touch with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah following which Mr Butler was released.

Talking to Dawn, he said he had a valid visa, passport and an NOC to travel to Pakistan but was stopped and detained at the Lahore airport. “I was told by the officials that my name was on the black list and I will have to remain in a room for eight hours,” he said, adding that three years ago, he was sent back home and was not allowed to enter Pakistan where he had several friends.

Mr Butler said the officials told him they had not been instructed by the government that his name had been removed from the black list. “The officials directed me to stay in the room and also offered me food and water,” he narrated.

The CPJ official said it was a misunderstanding, which took eight hours to clear. He also said he received a call from the Interior Ministry and they apologized for the inconvenience. “The incident would not have happened if the ministry had conveyed directions about giving me permission to fly to Pakistan,” he remarked.

Journalist and conference organiser Munizae Jahangir told Dawn that the FIA officials had not updated their system and stopped and harassed Mr Butler, who was a senior journalist, for eight hours at the airport. She said Mr Butler carried an NOC, but the officials did not listen to him and he was detained in a small room.

The country’s authorities were sleeping when the incident took place and they had to wait till 9:30am to resolve the matter.

The country’s media fraternity also condemned the action of FIA officials. Senior journalist Hamid Mir tweeted: “Shocking. Steve Butler of CPJ detained at Lahore Airport by immigration despite having a visa issued from Pakistan Embassy in Washington. He was invited to the Asma Jahangir Conference. He faced the same when Imran Khan was in power. Nothing changed.”

He further tweeted: “Steve Butler was blacklisted in Pakistan after the 2019 column in Washington Post against crackdown on Pakistani media, he is free now after the detention of eight hours at Lahore Airport. Thanks to PM Shehbaz Sharif for his intervention.”

Former Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists president and senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said it was “shameful that Steve Butler of CPJ has been detained at Lahore Airport”.

Rights organisations have criticised Pakistani authorities after a member of one of the leading media watchdogs was denied entry into the country.

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

Commenting on the authorities’ crackdown on journalists and media houses a few months ago, the CPJ had said: “Pakistan needs to get out of the habit of filing legal cases, throwing journalists into jail and blocking programming distribution in response to on-air comments it does not like. Authorities should free Ammad Yousuf and drop legal proceedings against other ARY journalists, executives.”

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2022

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