Tuesday, October 30, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned that the Pakistani government is delaying the visa applications of Indian journalists, as well as journalists of Indian origin holding citizenship from Western countries.
Some of these journalists have told CPJ that visa applications submitted in mid-September are still awaiting approval. Officials at Pakistan's High Commission in London have informed journalists of Indian origin that the Information Ministry office in Islamabad must clear their applications before they can be approved. Meanwhile, non-Indian journalists typically receive visas within days, if not hours, of submitting their applications.
"Journalists should not be barred from Pakistan on the basis of their nationality or ethnic background," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "Because the current crisis is one of truly global proportions, it is crucial that journalists from around the world are granted unfettered access to countries currently on the ‘front lines,' such as Pakistan."
The few journalists of Indian descent who have managed to acquire Pakistani visas run the risk of being deported. On October 25, Aditya Sinha, a reporter for the Hindustan Times, was ordered by security officials to leave Pakistan immediately. Sinha, who had been reporting from Peshawar for more than a month, had obtained a 15-day visa extension from the Interior Ministry the previous week.
Before putting him on the first available flight out of the country, a security official told Sinha, who holds a U.S. passport, "You are a U.S. national, but on the inside you are an Indian," according to Sinha's account published in the October 27 Hindustan Times.
Pakistani officials have admitted privately that Indian journalists will not be allowed into the country, according to CPJ sources. As early as September 25, the Pakistani daily The News reported that the "Pakistan government is not issuing visas to Indian journalists saying that they have nothing to report from here except anti-Pakistan stories."
This restrictive policy has seriously impeded the Indian press, as well as international media companies including the BBC, which has a large South Asia bureau based in Delhi.
CPJ protested the restrictions in an October 29 letter to Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.