Foreign journalist and member of a leading media watchdog, Steven Butler, was allowed entry into Pakistan on Thursday after eight hours of questioning at the Lahore airport.

Buttler, the Asia programme coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), is in Pakistan to attend the Asma Jahangir Conference – Roadmap for Human Rights in Pakistan, an event named after a Pakistani lawyer and rights activist who died last year.

The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) immigration officials stopped Butler at the airport, telling him that he was on an Interior Ministry “stop list”. However, they allowed him entry after approval from the Interior Ministry.

The journalist was added to the stop list by the PTI government after deporting him in 2019.

Meanwhile, rights organisations criticised Pakistani authorities over the move, calling it a “slap in the face for those concerned about press freedom”.

“Pakistani authorities’ move to block Steven Butler from entering the country is baffling and is a slap in the face for those concerned about press freedom in the country,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, in a statement.

Brad Adams, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called the move “alarming” and demanded the government “reverse the decision and take urgent steps towards providing an enabling environment for free expression”.

The organiser of the event, Munizae Jahangir, also voiced concerns. 

“The theme of this year’s conference itself is freedom of expression. If they are doing this to a member of a media watchdog what else is left?” she asked.

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