After A Sensitive Story, Pakistani Journalist Cyril Almeida Is Barred From Leaving : Parallels A respected Pakistani journalist is forbidden from traveling outside the country as punishment for writing a story about tensions between the military and the elected government.

After A Sensitive Story, A Pakistani Journalist Is Barred From Leaving

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Being a star columnist in Pakistan is a tricky business. The stuff you want to write about, like militant groups, can make the government unhappy, something one of the best-known journalists there just found out. He's been banned from leaving the country. As to why, we spoke to NPR's Phil Reeves in Islamabad.

Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Let's start with who this journalist is.

REEVES: He's a guy called Cyril Almeida. He writes for Dawn newspaper, which is the most prestigious of the daily English-language newspapers here. He has a reputation of being one of the most astute political commentators in the country. He's read widely here. But he's also followed by South Asia watchers all over the place.

MONTAGNE: And what did he write that's landed him in such trouble with the authorities?

REEVES: Well, basically he wrote a story that's about the presence in Pakistan of militant groups who carry out attacks in the neighborhood in Afghanistan and in India. I'm not talking here about al-Qaida. I'm not talking here about the Pakistan Taliban. The authorities here have cracked down very heavily on those. This is about groups that are perceived by some elements in the security establishment to be proxy militias that pursue the national interests of Pakistan in the neighborhood. So some people see them not as terrorists, but as patriots.

Now, Cyril Almeida's story detailed meetings between the civilian government, civilian leaders and the army in which senior government officials, he says, expressed concern that if Pakistan carries on allowing these groups to operate inside the country, there is a strong risk that the country will be diplomatically isolated. The U.S., for example, has for a long time been pressuring Islamabad to crack down on the Haqqani network.

So that was what his story was about. And it drew a very strong reaction from the government, that said it was a fabrication. And the newspapers responded by saying it was thoroughly checked and is standing by the story.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, Phil, I've read Dawn. And they do put out regular stories on such things. Why did the government react so strongly to this?

REEVES: Yes, this issue is discussed here. The government doesn't like it, but it's an open secret that these militant groups exist. And indeed, their leadership is allowed to move freely and even appear in public in Pakistan.

The reason it's really sensitive now is because there's a crisis in relations between India and Pakistan. The tensions were driven up last month when an attack was carried out in Indian-administered Kashmir, in which 18 soldiers were killed by militants who attacked an army base there. India accused Pakistan. Pakistan denied having any link.

But discussing this issue, the presence of militant groups who carry out attacks in Kashmir on Pakistani soil is very, very sensitive terrain right now and is likely to attract allegations from some quarters that you are being, you know, unpatriotic, you're betraying the country. And indeed, such allegations have been made on the internet against Cyril Almeida.

MONTAGNE: And of course he, as you said, is a star journalist and very popular. What's been the reaction?

REEVES: Well, he's got some considerable support, particularly overseas from Amnesty International and from the Committee to Protect Journalists, who say that the travel ban against him is wrong. And here, some journalists are arguing that it's actually a violation of the constitutional right to a free press. So there's been a reaction in favor of him. Not universal by any means, but there is a reaction in favor of him. Indeed, there's a Twitter hashtag that's labeled stand by Cyril.

Whether this support will actually matter to Mr. Almeida and to Dawn newspaper isn't clear. Cyril Almeida's tweeted that he's - today that he's concerned that the government's planning to take further uglier, as he puts it, action against him and the newspaper.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad. Thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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