The International Federation of Journalists today renewed its call for the immediate release of British journalist Amardeep Bassey who has been held for 11 days in a military jail in Pakistan over a visa irregularity. "He is in jail for no other reason than being a journalist of Indian origin. His detention is inexplicable and he should be freed immediately," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White told the Pakistan Ambassador in Brussels today.
The IFJ met with Pakistan officials over the case after days of uncertainty over Bassey's detention. He was travelling with a group of British journalists on a 13-day trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan organised by the British army. At the end of the trip Bassey, a reporter for the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham, decided to return briefly to Afghanistan to visit Kabul, but he got into trouble when he returned to Pakistan because his visa papers had not been properly stamped.
Bassey himself approached officials to explain that there was a problem. He has since been locked up in a military prison and interrogated on allegations of spying. However, no charges have been brought against him.
The IFJ met with Pakistan Ambassador Shaukat Umer to seek his immediate release. Aidan White said that it was impossible not to conclude that Bassey was a victim of rising tension in the region between India and Pakistan and that his work as a journalist made him an easy target for allegations of spying.
Pakistan officials were suspicious because they said that Bassey was carrying a "clandestine camera", but the IFJ dismissed this. "Normally hidden cameras might require some explanation, but in an area where journalists who carry visible signs of their work - photographic gear, television cameras, tape recorders and microphones - have been subject to targeting and harassment, it is prudent and sensible not to draw attention to your work," said Aidan White.
The Pakistan authorities have been asked to set Bassey free or to bring charges against him. The IFJ has also offered, in co-operation with Pakistan, to prepare guidelines for journalists travelling in the region.
"Claims of espionage are plainly absurd, but this journalist who has admitted a minor irregularity should be treated fairly, and in proportion to the circumstances. His ordeal has gone on long enough and he should be allowed to come home," said White.