Colleagues call for Walsh’s return to Pakistan

In our report, “Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press and the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics,” we included a long list of recommendations for the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to undertake to combat assaults on journalists and impunity in their murders. But there is a step Sharif could take immediately to address one overtly hostile act against journalists.

The interim government that preceded Sharif expelled a well-respected foreign journalist last month. Early on May 9, police officers delivered a two-sentence letter to Declan Walsh’s home in Islamabad that said his journalist visa was canceled because of unspecified “undesirable activities.” Walsh, The New York Times bureau chief in Islamabad, was told to leave the country within 72 hours.

Seventeen foreign media outlets in Pakistan wrote to Sharif Friday to protest the expulsion and called for Walsh to be allowed to return to the country to resume his work. The letter pointed out: “The Pakistani government has repeatedly said that it respects press freedom. The manner in which it expelled Mr. Walsh runs counter to this stated commitment and threatens the entire journalism community in the country.”

Walsh told CPJ today that he had written to the information minister and the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations, asking that they respond to his requests to be allowed back in. He said he has gotten no reply. He does not know what he did to warrant his expulsion.

Walsh is alive and well, unlike 23 of his Pakistani colleagues who have been targeted for killings in the past decade. But his expulsion is an indicator of what could happen to any foreign correspondent who falls afoul of the government. Pakistani journalists might fear being killed, but foreign journalists have to worry about being expelled. Either way, the media in Pakistan remains under threat.