Rights groups have demanded Pakistan’s government explain why a member of a leading press watchdog was denied entry to the country, calling the move a “slap in the face to those concerned about press freedom.”
Immigration officials halted Steven Butler, Asian program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), on Oct. 17 at Lahore Airport, and confiscated his travel documents, the group said.
Butler had travelled to Pakistan on a valid visa to attend a human rights conference in the eastern Pakistani city, according to organisers and the CPJ.
After telling Butler he was on an Interior Ministry “stop list” or blacklist, he was put on a plane back to Doha and later Washington, the group said.
“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,” CPJ’s executive director Joel Simon said in a statement.
“If the government is interested in demonstrating its commitment to a free press, it should conduct a swift and transparent investigation into this case.”
Pakistan’s government has not yet commented on the case.
Pakistan is considered a dangerous place for journalists, and members of the media have long been intimidated and harassed, while some have been attacked for critical reporting of the powerful military. But journalists and rights groups have grown alarmed over a more recent crackdown on press freedom and increased pressure from authorities since Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government came to power in 2018.
Butler has previously said that news broadcasts have been blocked in Pakistan, journalists forced off social media, opposition leaders banned from television, and fake viral online campaigns have been run that threatened journalists.
Last week, local TV news outlet Geo announced they were unable to broadcast a press conference of a leading opposition member after receiving a warning from regulatory authorities.
Munizae Jahangir, an organizer of the Asma Jahangir Conference-Roadmap for Human Rights in Pakistan that Butler was due to attend, said the theme of the conference was freedom of expression.
“If they are doing this to a member of a media watchdog, what else is left?” she told media.