In expulsion case, Pakistani assertions ring hollow

New York, January 16, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists rejects claims made by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that CPJ’s alert on the expulsion of U.S. journalist Nicholas Schmidle was “misleading and factually incorrect.” The ministry’s remarks were made in a prepared opening statement to a press briefing in Islamabad today and repeated in response to a reporter’s questions.

“We reject the ministry’s accusations,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Nicholas Schmidle worked openly as a journalist in Pakistan for almost two years and the government was fully aware of his activities. The fact that Pakistan expelled him after he wrote an article critical of their activities makes it clear he was punished for his work as a journalist.”

Schmidle left the country five days after his report, “Next-Gen Taliban,” appeared in The New York Times Magazine on January 6. The article contained interviews with anti-government Taliban leaders and was reported from Baluchistan province, and its capital, Quetta.

Today, CPJ spoke with Schmidle, who said: “I was in Pakistan as a researcher and writer, and a fellow for the Institute of Current World Affairs, and writing articles for them when I was Pakistan. I also openly worked as a journalist for many publications in the 23 months I was in the country and never made any attempt to hide my identity—all of my articles were bylined with my name.”

“My visa had no travel restrictions, and when I did travel to areas which require additional permissions, such as the port city of Gwadar, I sought and was given permission to go to them,” Schmidle told CPJ.  “When ICWA and I applied for my visa we asked for a journalist’s visa and we made it clear that I would also be reporting from Pakistan while meeting my responsibilities for ICWA. We were told that it would be better to apply for a research visa, which we did.”

Harassment of Pakistan’s media has increased since President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on December 3.

“As we said, we are accustomed to reporting on the government’s attacks on the local media, which have increased as the security situation in the country has deteriorated. We see the deportation of Schmidle as part of a larger policy toward the media that increasingly seeks to stifle criticism from any quarter,” said Simon.