Pakistan denies entry to worker for global press freedom group which has criticised government censorship

Move condemned as ‘slap in the face to those concerned about press freedom’

Chris Baynes
Friday 18 October 2019 15:12
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Steven Butler was denied entry to Pakistan and told he was on a government blacklist
Steven Butler was denied entry to Pakistan and told he was on a government blacklist

Pakistan has banned the Asia coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists from entering the country, in a move the global press freedom group said reinforces its “deep and growing concerns” about censorship in the country.

Immigration officials denied entry to Steven Butler after he flew into Lahore for a human rights conference on Wednesday night.

Border officers at Allama Iqbal International Airport told him his name was on an Interior Ministry blacklist and expelled him from the country.

He was forced to board a flight to Doha, Qatar, where authorities placed him on another plane to Washington DC.

Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, called for Pakistani authorities to give “a full explanation of their decision to bar Butler from entering and correct this error”.

He said the move to block Mr Butler from entering the country was “baffling and is a slap in the face to those concerned about press freedom in the country”.

“If the government is interested in demonstrating its commitment to a free press, it should conduct a swift and transparent investigation into this case,” Mr Simon added.

The Pakistani government had no immediate comment on Friday.

Mr Butler said he was placed in “a kind of restricted custody” while being flow back to the US, with crew confiscating his passport and boarding pass.

He had travelled to Lahore to attend the Asma Jahangir Conference-Roadmap for Human Rights. The conference this weekend is named after a renowned Pakistani human rights activist who died last year of a heart attack.

Munizae Jahangir, an organiser of the event, condemned the blacklisting of Mr Butler. He said: “The theme of this year’s conference itself was freedom of expression. If they are doing this to a member of a media watchdog, what else is left?”

Mr Butler has been a regular visitor to Pakistan, working with journalists’ groups throughout the country, while the New York-based CPJ has been critical of what it says are government moves to curb press freedom in the south Asian nation.

His expulsion at the airport “reinforces our deep and growing concerns about press freedom,” Mr Simon said.

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Pakistani journalists faced growing censorship in the past year.

Websites have been shut down, including the Urdu website of the US government-funded Voice of America, which was forced offline after reporting on an ethnic Pashtun tribal movement that has been critical of military operations in regions bordering Afghanistan.

Mashaal Radio, a station affiliated with Radio Free Europe, has also been closed.

Leading print titles, including the well-respected English-language newspaper Dawn, have come under pressure, with distributors harassed and prevented from delivering copies.

Journalists and advocacy groups blame the military and its powerful intelligence agency, which they say are seeking to quash coverage of the Pashtun movement against the army’s war on terror as well as critical articles in general.

The military has denied presiding over censorship.

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