IHC halts US blogger’s deportation

By Ali Imran

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday issued a stay order on a decision of the Ministry of Interior to turn down the application for a visa extension of a Pakistan-based American blogger.
The court also directed the plaintiff to submit an affidavit detailing all her grievances before the next hearing. Cynthia Ritchie, who has been living in Pakistan since 2009, had moved  the high court on Saturday, two days after the interior ministry, while rejecting her request of an extension in her visa, had directed her to leave the country within 15 days.
Ritchie, whose visa had expired in February, was living on an extended visa, granted to all foreigners in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which expired on Aug 31.
In her petition, the blogger, while maintaining that she meets the criteria for visa extension, had claimed the ministry rejected her application without any solid reason.
During the hearing, presided over by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, the petitioner’s counsel reiterated that the authorities concerned did not provide a reason for denying Ritchie a visa extension.
To which, Justice Minallah observed that numerous visas are rejected on a daily basis without an explanation.
When the plaintiff questioned the law under which her request was denied, the judge replied that no law is required to reject a visa.
“A visa is not a basic right, it is a privilege,” the judge observed. The court also asked whether Ritchie had any other complaints, to which she replied that two petitions were pending in the FIA.
After hearing the arguments, Justice Minallah issued notices to Secretary Interior Yousaf Naseem Khokhar and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Wajid Zia before adjourning the case indefinitely.
In June last, the IHC had sought an explanation from the ministry about the status and terms and conditions of the visa issued to Ritchie, asking it to explain if she was entitled to making political statements.
Subsequently, the high court on July 10 asked the interior ministry to decide on a petition filed by a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader, seeking Cynthia’s deportation after she was accused by the party of making derogatory remarks about slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Last week, while taking up the matter, Justice Minallah read out a recent order of the interior ministry, noting that the interior secretary himself was not aware of the policy in such matters.
The secretary had not made reference to any law or policy and appeared to have solely relied on the blogger’s statement, the judge said.
The order is self-contradictory and in conflict with the previous order, Justice Minallah had observed.
Khokhar had conceded in his order that Cynthia was granted a work visa in violation of relevant policy and laws.
The court had observed that Khokhar had been evasive in recording his findings regarding the crucial question: whether a foreign national visiting Pakistan on the basis of a business visa was entitled to give statements of a political nature.