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When The U.S. Is The One To Detain Foreign Journalists

August 21, 2009

We write a lot about Western journalists being jailed, detained, censored, and even killed while in countries that put minimal value on freedom of speech.

But when Pakistani journalist Rahman Bunairee, 34, sought refuge in the United States, he found himself denied access and detained for 10 days in U.S. custody.

Bunairee covered the actions of Islamic militants in Pakistan while reporting for Voice of America, and it was after these reports that he began receiving threats. According to The Washington Post, Bunairee’s home was destroyed with explosives by militants before they came looking for him at his work.

Contrary to the Pakistani government’s claims that the Taliban was no longer occupying the North Western region of the country, Bunairee reported that militant gunmen were still patrolling in several of the villages; reports that apparently angered the militant group enough to send them after him.

VOA quickly arranged for a visa to get him out of the country, but because the visa did not mention asylum (it was a for a 1-year scholarship program, which, although related to the work Bunairee was involved in, did not match his story when he arrive in the U.S.), he was detained upon arriving in Dulles International Airport.

After 10 days with out comment from U.S. customs officials or the Department of Homeland Security (who cited privacy concerns) Bunairee was finally released. Although he is out of custody, he is still working with lawyers to secure his asylum here in the United States.

Relieved by his release, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement saying, “Bunairee worked as a reporter on the front lines of a conflict of strategic importance to the United States and was brought to Washington by the US-funded Voice of America. We hope that his status in the US will be resolved quickly so he can resume his work as a journalist.”

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.