Pakistani authorities have blocked the circulation of a leading English daily in many parts of the country, a media watchdog has alleged, days after the newspaper published ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif's controversial remarks on the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
The interview of Sharif, which reportedly displeased the Pakistan's powerful military establishment, appeared in Dawn newspaper's May 12 issue and the blocking began on May 15, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said as it condemned the "latest attack on media freedom in Pakistan".
According to RSF, distribution is being disrupted in most of Balochistan province, many cities in Sindh province and in all military cantonments.
Sharif dropped a bombshell in an interview with Dawn newspaper last week when he said: "Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can't we complete the trial?"
His comments triggered a massive controversy, drawing sharp criticism from all quarters. The National Security Committee (NSC) - Pakistan's top civil-military body - also condemned his statement in a high-level meeting.
The Press Council of Pakistan has notified Dawn's editor that the newspaper breached the ethical code of practice by publishing content that "may bring into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its sovereignty or integrity as an independent country".
"The unwarranted blocking of the distribution of one of the main independent newspapers has yet again shown that the military are determined to maintain their grip on access to news and information in Pakistan," RSF said.
"It is clear that the military high command does not want to allow a democratic debate in the months preceding a general election. "We call on the authorities to stop interfering in the dissemination of independent media and to restore distribution of Dawn throughout Pakistan," RSF added.
Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had fired a broadside at Nawaz for statement about the Mumbai attack, with some going as far as demanding that the PML-N supremo be tried for high treason; that his name be placed on the Exit Control List, and a thorough investigation be undertaken to determine the reasons behind the statement made by three-time prime minister.
Ten Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants from Pakistan killed 166 people and wounded dozens in Mumbai in November, 2008. Nine of the attackers were killed by police while lone survivor Ajmal Kasab was caught. Kasab was executed after a court found him guilty and handed down the death sentence.