By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Authorities at Pakistan’s Lahore airport denied entry to the Asia coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), saying his name was on blacklist managed by the Ministry of Interior, a statement from the New York-based organisation said.
An immigration officer at Lahore’s international airport told Steven Butler that his journalist visa was valid, but it was voided because his name was “on a stop list of the Interior Ministry”, the CPJ statement quoted Butler as saying.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior Ministry did not respond to Reuters calls seeking comment.
Butler had travelled to Lahore to participate in the Asma Jahangir Conference–Roadmap for Human Rights in Pakistan, an event named after a Pakistani lawyer and rights activist who died last year.
Pakistan’s press has had a turbulent relationship with successive governments and the powerful military over many years. Some in the media complained of a severe crackdown in the run-up to the 2018 general election that saw Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI party sweep to power.
The CPJ has been critical of what it says are government moves to curb press freedom in Pakistan and has been issuing statement’s demanding an end to a crackdown on the media.
Airport authorities at Allama Iqbal International Airport confiscated Steven Butler’s passport and put him on a flight to Doha, Qatar, The CPJ said. When he arrived in Doha, he was placed on a flight to Washington D.C.
Butler, who communicated with the CJP while in-flight, said he was in a kind of “restricted custody”, with the flight crew in possession of his passport and boarding pass, said the CPJ.
“The 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,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, in the statement.
“Pakistani authorities should give a full explanation of their decision to bar Butler from entering and correct this error,” the statement added.
(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Alex Richardson)