For the last eight months, an explosive news story with anonymous sources about a confrontation between Pakistan’s Prime Minister and the country’s top intelligence chief has resulted in several government officials losing their jobs and a newspaper being intimidated, revealing Pakistani state and military officials’ limited regard for press freedom.
Soon after the story was published at Dawn, the country’s oldest and most respected English daily, Pakistan’s Information Minister was fired from his job. Both the civilian government and the military believed his job was to “prevent” the news article from being published.
State officials soon began pressuring the newspaper to reveal its sources. But eight months on, the newspaper has stood its ground, sparking a conversation in the country about the rights of journalists to protect their sources, especially when it comes to “national security” concerns.
In October of last year, journalist Cyril Almeida published a front-page scoop revealing a confrontation between the Prime Minister and the military’s now former Inter-Services Intelligence chief, Rizwan Akhtar. The story revealed that at a top-secret meeting, members of the civilian government complained to the Akhtar that when their law-enforcement agencies took action against armed groups, his “security establishment … worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free.”
Almeida’s scoop, which cited anonymous government sources, confirmed long-suspected rumors of a rift between the country’s civilian and military leaderships over counter-terrorism efforts. The revelations have since become known as “Dawn Leaks” .
Pakistan’s interior ministry first denied the story and put Almeida on the Exit Control List (ECL), an extraordinary measure usually reserved for hardened criminals or people involved in mass fraud and corruption. When Almeida’s publication stood by him and refused to reveal their source, the government was forced to remove Almeida from the ECL and launched its own investigation into the source of the leak.