ISLAMABAD – Pakistani officials said Wednesday they imposed a travel ban on a prominent journalist to determine who gave him information for what they called a fabricated story about a high-level secret security meeting that created an impression that the civilian and military leadership were divided over tackling military affairs and extremism.
A senior official at the Interior Ministry and a government official said there will be no restriction on Cyril Almeida to travel within the country.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media because of the sensitivity of the issue. The comments from the officials came a day after the reporter said he has been barred from leaving Pakistan after his newspaper published an article suggesting there was a rift between the government and military leaders over fighting Islamic militants.
Almeida tweeted late Monday that his name has been added to the government's "exit control list," adding that he has no immediate plans to travel.
The Dawn published Almeida's article on its front page last week. The government has since issued three statements denying any such rift, including on Monday, when it vowed "stern action" against those responsible for the story, which it says "risked vital state interests." The newspaper has stood by the story.
Civil-military relations are a taboo subject in Pakistan, which has a long history of military coups.
Amnesty International called on the government to lift all restrictions on Almeida and said reporters in Pakistan should be able to work freely and without fear of retribution. It said the travel ban is "a crude intimidation tactic designed to silence journalists."
Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission said media have the right to cover civil-military relations. It said any objections to the article should be pursued through legal avenues.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the U.S. was aware of reports of restrictions on Almeida's travel. "We're concerned about any efforts to limit press freedom or the ability of journalists to conduct their very, very important work," Kirby told reporters.