Pakistan blacklists, expels global journalists’ group leader

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has blacklisted and expelled the Asia coordinator of global press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ executive director Joel Simon called the expulsion of Steven Butler “baffling” and “a slap in the face” to those concerned about press freedom in Pakistan.
Butler was refused entry at the airport in Lahore despite having a valid visa and was returned to the United States. Butler said he was told he was on “a stop list of the Interior Ministry.”

Butler was planning to attend the Asma Jahangir Conference-Roadmap for Human Rights in Pakistan. The conference this weekend is named for Pakistan’s renowned human rights activist who died last year. 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”.