ISLAMABAD -- Under attack for imposing a foreign travel ban on a prominent journalist, Pakistan today withdrew the order on the scribe who had reported on a rift between civilian and military leaderships on the powerful ISI's covert support to terrorist groups in the country.
The travel ban on Cyril Almeida of 'Dawn' had sparked a massive criticism of the government and the military from media houses, journalist associations and the civil society.
Almedia's name was put on the Exit Control List this week after he reported about a verbal clash between the military and the government over the spy agency's support to militants.
Th ECL is a border control system maintained by Pakistan government which allows it to bar people whose names appear on the list from leaving the country.
"It has been decided to delete the name of Cyril Almedia...from Exit Control List," the government said in a notification. "All concerned are requested to take immediate action in the matter."
The decision was taken after Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan met media representative bodies -- All Pakistan Newspapers Society and Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors -- in Islamabad as the government had come under intense criticism over its decision to impose the travel ban on Almeida.
"Reiterating full support to freedom of press and independence of media and as a good-will gesture, the interior minister today ordered removal of the name of journalist from Exit Control List who had filed inaccurate and fabricated news item about national security meeting," the ministry said in a statement.
Pakistan Army expressed "serious concern" over the news leak after which Almeida was barred from leaving the country.
"Participants expressed their serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated story of an important security meeting held at the Prime Minister's House and viewed it as breach of national security," according a statement by the army.
But the interior minister reiterated that independent media must play its role not only towards "safeguarding" national interests and security but also to counter negative propaganda of the enemies of state.
Khan, however, told reporters that unverified and speculative news items citing unnamed sources on national security issues must be refrained, that crosses ethical boundaries of responsible journalism.
Minister for Information Pervaiz Rashid, who also attended the meeting with media representative bodies, said the government firmly believes in freedom of press and has proved time and again that it cannot compromise on the matter.
The government has initiated a probe to determine who leaked the details of the meeting between military and civilians leaderships last week. Interior Minister Khan said those responsible for the 'news leak' will be punished.
"Removal of name of the journalist would in no way affect the ongoing inquiry into the matter and the inquiry would continue to its logical conclusion," the statement said.
Dawn has maintained that its story was correct and "duly verified".
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