U.S. officials detain Pakistani VOA journalist

New York, August 14, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by U.S. immigration officials’ decision to detain without explanation Rahman Bunairee, a Pakistani reporter for Voice of America who said he had been targeted for attack in his home country. CPJ calls on immigration officials to release Bunairee immediately and allow him to resume his work for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster.

Bunairee arrived at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Sunday from Karachi, intending to take a position at VOA’s Washington headquarters. Bunairee had fled Pakistan after saying he had been threatened and attacked; notably, he reported a July 8 attack in which Taliban militants blew up his family’s home in Buner District in Pakistan’s restive North West Frontier Province. The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan had issued Bunairee a J-1 visa, for visiting scholars and experts, which would allow him to live and work in the United States for a year, according to a VOA press release posted Friday on its Web site.

Bunairee was detained at the airport by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division. A spokeswoman for the agency, Cori Bassett, confirmed that Bunairee was in ICE custody in an e-mail message to CPJ on Friday. “Mr. Bunairee … will be afforded all rights and procedures allowed under our laws,” Bassett said, but declined to comment further citing ICE protocol. 

“Rahman Bunairee risked his life and family reporting on Taliban militants in Pakistan for a station funded by the U.S. government,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “It is imperative that U.S. authorities explain why he is being held and release him immediately.”

VOA first reported on Bunairee’s detention on Friday. “VOA is obviously extremely concerned,” Joan Mower, a spokeswoman for the broadcaster, told The Washington Post. She declined to comment on specific details of Bunairee’s detention. The broadcaster had also reported on the attack on Bunairee’s home. 

Bunairee, who worked for VOA’s Pashto-language service in Pakistan, was also the Karachi bureau chief for the privately owned Khyber TV. He said he felt compelled to leave the country after militants had tried to abduct him from Khyber’s Karachi bureau, he told CPJ in Pakistan. Bunairee left a wife and four children in Pakistan