U.S. immigration officials are holding a Pakistani journalist for Voice of America's Deewa Radio who was detained at the airport as he arrived in Washington to contriubte to programing at VOA headquarters. The journalist, whose home was destroyed by the Taliban last month, was taken into custody on Sunday.
Rahman Bunairee is a Pakistani journalist who works as a contract reporter for VOA's Deewa Radio and for a privately-owned Pakistani television station. The 33-year-old planned to join VOA in Washington for one year, and arrived at Dulles Airport on Sunday with a visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. It is not clear why he was detained and why he is still being held in U.S. custody.
Cori Bassett, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that Bunairee is in custody, and released a statement saying he "will be afforded all rights and procedures allowed" under U.S. laws. She told VOA that for confidentiality and privacy reasons she could not provide any details on the case.
Joan Mower, head of VOA's Public Relations Department, said she does not know why Bunairee was detained, and that VOA and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, are working to resolve the situation. "We are hopeful that this case will be resolved very quickly. We are working with other federal agencies to come to a successful resolution, we are concerned for Mr. Bunairee," she said.
Mower explained that Bunairee has been working for VOA's Deewa Radio, Pashto language broadcasting to the Afghan-Pakistan border region, since 2006. She said the service has recently expanded. "Mr. Bunairee is a qualified, educated, well-known, trusted journalist who has been working for us, and we are hoping that he will help us expand our programs even further during the next year," she said.
Bunairee is usually based in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. But he recently traveled to the northwest frontier region, where he is from originally, to cover the army offensive against Taliban militants.
On July 7, Bunairee participated in a VOA call-in radio show in which he discussed the Taliban's continued presence in the region. Two nights later, armed militants came to Bunairee's residence in northwestern Pakistan and said they had orders to blow up the home. The militants allowed 11 members of his family to leave, ransacked the house for valuables and then blew up the building. No one was hurt, but Bunairee said militants threatened to take further action against him.
Last month Bunairee met in Pakistan with Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Dietz told VOA he is upset that Bunairee has now been detained by U.S. immigration officials. "The United States positions itself as someone on the side of democracy and journalists and on the right side of so many issues, and yet when you get a journalist like Rahman who comes, having left his country because he was under pressure for the reporting that he was doing, to have him treated as a criminal, when he arrives here, legitimately, is just an outrage," he said.
Dietz said the U.S. government needs to act as quickly as possible to correct the situation to restore its own credibility. Representatives of the Broadcasting Board of Governors have met with Bunairee in custody in a Washington suburb in Virginia and have secured legal representation for him.