Pakistani scribe barred from leaving country over article suggesting state support for anti-India militants

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - A prominent Pakistani journalist says he has been barred from leaving the country after he wrote an article, denied by the authorities, about a rift between the government and the powerful military.

Mr Cyril Almeida's name has been placed on the Exit Control List, his newspaper Dawn reported on Tuesday (Oct 11), citing officials.

An interior ministry spokesman said he could not confirm the order had been issued.

Mr Almeida, a leading columnist and assistant editor at one of Pakistan's most respected English-language dailies, issued a tweet late on Monday (Oct 10) about the ban.

"I am told and have been informed and have been shown evidence that I am on the Exit Control List," he said. "Puzzled, saddened. Had no intention of going anywhere; this is my home. Pakistan."

Mr Almeida's story, published on Oct 6, gave an account of a tense, high-level security meeting held between military and government officials.

Quoting anonymous sources, it said civilian government officials called for the military not to interfere if civilian authorities tried to arrest members of anti-India militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India has long accused Pakistan's military of sponsoring these groups to foment unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere, a charge that Pakistan denies.

The government issued two denials of the Dawn story.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to discuss the article's contents, according to a statement from the prime minister's office.

"The participants were unanimous that the published story was clearly violative of universally acknowledged principles of reporting on national security issues and has risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents," the statement said. "(The) Prime Minister took serious notice of the violation and directed that those responsible should be identified for stern action."

Relations between the civilian government and military have often been strained in a country where several prime ministers, including Mr Sharif himself, have been ousted in coups.

The Dawn article comes at a particularly sensitive time, however, with nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan locked in a tense standoff in disputed Kashmir after militants attacked an Indian army base there last month killing 19 soldiers.

Since 2014, Pakistan has launched a crackdown on Pakistani Taleban militants and their allies along the northwestern border with Afghanistan, but it is unclear if that operation has extended to anti-India groups.

Dawn's editor, Mr Zaffar Abbas, issued a statement saying the paper stood by the report.

Pakistan's press is vibrant, but rights activists say reporting on national security issues is heavily controlled.

Pakistan ranks 147th of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index. At least 59 journalists have been killed in targeted attacks since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance 1981, the Pakistani government has the authority to bar the exit of any citizen from the country. Those on the list may apply for a review by the government itself, but not by the courts.

The measure has been used in the past to control the travel of convicted criminals, politicians and some Islamist militants. It has rarely been used against journalists.