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Pakistani Journalist Cyril Almeida Was Grounded Under Law Enacted by General Zia's Repressive Regime

Debayan Roy | News18.com

First published: October 11, 2016, 5:46 PM IST | Updated: October 11, 2016
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Pakistani Journalist Cyril Almeida Was Grounded Under Law Enacted by General Zia's Repressive Regime
TV grab of Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida's photo.

New Delhi: The draconian Exit Control List (ECL) under which Pakistan grounded Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida is a vaguely-drafted law violative of the country’s constitution and dates back to the repressive era of General Zia-ul-Haq, a top Pakistani lawyer told News18.com

Yasser Latif Hamdani, a Lahore-based lawyer and a columnist for Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, said it was surprising that ECL was slapped on a journalist because it is a provision usually applied to persons involved in mass corruption and misuse of power/authority, hardened criminals involved in acts of terrorism and conspiracy, and drug trafficking.

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Almeida, an assistant editor with Dawn, was stopped from leaving the country for unspecified reasons. However, it is widely speculated that the government clamped down on him after he broke the story of a clandestine civilian-military meeting where Pakistan’s political leadership reportedly blamed the military and its support to non-state actors like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba for the increasing isolation of the country.

The Exit Control List of Pakistan draws its legal validity from the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, 1981. It allows the federal government to prohibit any person from travelling abroad.

“Whatever Cyril wrote was sensible and these laws, which date back to the regime of General Zia-ul Haq, violate the constitution of Pakistan and must be struck down,” Hamdani told News18.com

He said all these laws were ordinances, which gained legal sanctity by the 8th Amendment in 1985, and the civil administration could have written them off, but didn’t choose to do so.

“General Musharraf was charged for treason under Article 6 of the constitution but his name was not put under the ECL and he was allowed to travel abroad. So what about the leaders of the militant organisations in Pakistan? They are never under ECL. What about the oppressors of the minority sections, even they escape the ECL. This law has to be declared unconstitutional at the earliest,” he said.

Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was in-charge of the Exit Control List but now this responsibility has been shifted to the interior ministry.

Rafia Zakaria, a Pakistani-American journalist and an attorney, had written in Dawn in December 2014 that ECL was authoritarian in nature since it was passed during the time of the martial regime of General Zia. Its purpose was to prevent various people being investigated by the martial law regime from leaving the country, he said.

Faisal Daudpota, one of the senior lawyers in Pakistan and also a senior partner at Daudpota International in Dubai (UAE), had argued in his work ‘Imposing Limitations on the Right to Travel: An Analysis of Pakistan’s Exit Control Law’ that ECI was not only unconstitutional but needed to be trashed due to its inherent nature of “military authoritarianism”.

Pakistan ranks a lowly 147 in the International Press Freedom Index, an annual report by Reporters Without Borders that ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. India ranks 133, only slightly better than Pakistan and other repressive regimes such as South Sudan (140).

In January 2015, Indian Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was put on India’s ‘No-Fly’ list and was barred from travelling to London where she was scheduled to address the British Parliament about the “illegal” coal-mining activities in India’s Mahan forest. Her trip was considered “prejudicial to national interest” and “detrimental to the country’s economic growth”.

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On October 2, when the country celebrated the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, an independent newspaper based in Srinagar, Kashmir Reader, was ordered to stop publication for allegedly inciting violence.

India also resorts to the ‘Look-out Circular (LOC)’ to stop an individual from travelling abroad. These circulars are used to trace absconding criminals and also to prevent and monitor effectively the entry or exit of persons who may be wanted by law enforcement authorities.

Last month, Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Pervez was detained at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport by immigration officials and was barred from travelling to Geneva where he was scheduled to attend a UN Human Rights Council session.

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