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Social media erupts as Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida hit with travel ban

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

One of Pakistan's leading journalists has been barred from leaving the country just days after he wrote an exclusive report about a meeting between the military and the government that confirmed a rift between the two leaderships.

Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor and reporter at large at Dawn, tweeted that he had been put on the "exit control list" - a border control system - after Prime Minister's Nawaz Sharif's office rejected the front-page story, claiming it had been "fabricated" and there was no conflict whatsoever at the meeting.

Almeida was reportedly stopped from boarding a flight booked to Dubai for a long-planned holiday with members of his family.

Dawn's editor, Zaffar Abbas on 11 October published an editorial note confirming that Almeida had been placed on the Exit Control List.

This comes weeks after 18 Indian soldiers were killed in Uri and just days after India carried out "surgical strikes" against militants across the border in response to that attack.

The controversial report

The 6 October article quoted unnamed senior officials who said they witnessed a showdown between Sharif and Rizwan Akhtar, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), on 3 October.

According to the report, Akhtar was told Pakistan could only avoid international isolation if it took action against the terror networks in the country: Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network.

If true, this is big step for the civilian government to have taken particularly because the US and India have alleged time and again that all three groups receive support from the ISI. Pakistan has always denied this claim.

In a statement Sharif's office vowed "stern action" for those responsible for a news story that "risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts".

Even so, Sharif has reportedly ordered that fresh attempts be made to conclude the investigations into the Pathankot attack as well as "restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court".

Strangely enough, the government's action of not allowing Almeida to leave the country is only more likely to get people to believe that he reported to the truth. Or else, why would he be seen as a threat in any way?

The social media backlash

Almeida was expectedly trolled on social media for the piece in Pakistan and called a "RAW agent" and a "presstitute".

Some alleged India's hand was behind the story.

Almeida managed to hold his own and even resorted to some humour.

Abbas, the editor of Dawn, also issued a statement on 10 October using the newspaper's official Facebook page saying that the story had been thoroughly "verified, cross-checked and fact-checked".


The government's decision to put Almeida on the lost also drew strong reactions from journalists and activists in Pakistan. Most protested the lack of press freedoms and tweeted using the hashtag #StandWithCyril.

Across the border, a few Indians also joined in on the debate.

More in Catch - Dawn says Pakistan will up the ante against terror groups. Here's why it's hard to take them seriously

Dawn backs Cyril Almeida after Pakistani journalist's 'exclusive' story puts him on Exit Control List

First published: 11 October 2016, 5:34 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.