The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the decision by the Government of Pakistan to release British journalist Amardeep Bassey after his detention for nearly 20 days on suspicion of espionage. In a letter to the IFJ, which had protested over the arrest to the Pakistan Ambassador in Brussels, the authorities announced that "as a gesture of good will", the Government has decided not to prosecute Mr. Bassey and he had left Pakistan yesterday.
The Birmingham-based Sunday Mercury journalist had been 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 he decided to return briefly to Afghanistan to visit Kabul, but he got into trouble when he discovered his visa papers had not been properly stamped.
Bassey himself approached officials to explain the problem. He was locked up in a military prison and interrogated on allegations of spying. However, no charges were formally brought against him. The IFJ strongly argued that Bassey had been detained for no other reason than he was a journalist of Indian origin.
The Pakistan Ambassador Shaukat Umer had earlier told the IFJ that officials were suspicious because they said that Bassey was carrying a "clandestine camera." However, the IFJ dismissed this and reassured the authorities that while, in normal conditions, hidden cameras might require some explanation, in an area where journalists who carry equipment - 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.
"We welcome this decision," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "It is sensible recognition that journalists doing their job must be able to travel, to ask difficult questions and to be properly equipped. And when they do so, it is not to be assumed that they are spying for one side or another in a conflict."