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Pakistan Places Travel Ban on American Diplomat Involved in Fatal Wreck

Pakistani journalists examine a car of American diplomate parked inside a police station after an accident in Islamabad, April 7, 2018.

Pakistan has barred a U.S. diplomat from leaving the country pending a court case stemming from his involvement in a recent fatal traffic accident.

Authorities say that on April 7, Defense Attache Colonel Joseph Emanuel Hall was driving an embassy vehicle when it collided with a motorcycle, killing 22-year-old Attique Baig and injuring another person on the bike.

The deputy attorney general, Raja Khalid, informed the court on Tuesday that the federal government had placed Hall's name on Pakistan's "black list," preventing him from leaving Pakistan. He went on to add that all airports around the country have been alerted.

The dead man's family has petitioned the capital city's High Court, asking that Hall's name be placed on the so-called Exit Control List, or ECL, which bars people facing judicial proceedings from leaving Pakistan.

Khalid told the court that placing the U.S. diplomat's name on the ECL required a long legal process.

He argued during Tuesday's proceedings that Hall could neither be tried nor arrested because the Vienna Convention guarantees immunity to designated diplomats from criminal jurisdiction.

The deputy attorney general emphasized the diplomat could only be tried if the U.S. waived his immunity.

Before adjourning the proceedings until next week, the single-judge court ordered the Foreign Ministry to submit its report on the question of diplomatic immunity and on putting Hall's name on the ECL.

A day after the fatal accident, Pakistani police released to media identification documents of the U.S. diplomat along with video footage which showed the vehicle running a red light and hitting the motorcycle.

The family of the deceased, 22-year-old Attique Baig, has also staged a street demonstration, demanding the government ensure justice is served.

U.S. officials have expressed their "deep sympathy to the family of the deceased and those injured," and pledged to fully cooperate with local authorities in the investigation.

Diplomatic Tension

The accident comes amid increased diplomatic tensions with Washington over allegations insurgents in Afghanistan are using Pakistani soil to plot deadly attacks. Pakistani officials reject the allegations.

On Monday, a senior Department of State official, Alice Wells, visited Islamabad and discussed, among other subjects, the diplomat's case in discussions with top Foreign Ministry officials.

The Pakistani side during the meeting demanded a waiver of diplomatic immunity enjoyed by Hall so that he could be prosecuted, the DAWN newspaper reported Tuesday quoting its sources. It gave no further details.

The U.S. embassy, in a brief post-visit statement, did not give details on issues Wells discussed with Pakistani interlocutors.

"In her meetings, she discussed the status of the U.S. South Asia strategy and efforts to make progress on regional security and stability," it said.

The U.S. government recently notified Islamabad that Pakistani diplomats will be placed under new travel restrictions starting May 1, underscoring a consistent deterioration in bilateral ties.

The historically turbulent relationship was severely strained in 2011 when a CIA contractor in the city of Lahore shot and killed two Pakistanis riding a motorcycle.

The contractor, Raymond Davis, defended his actions, saying he had to open fire to prevent the robbery of his vehicle. Washington claimed diplomatic immunity for Davis, but Islamabad rejected it and a court later charged the American with murder.

The contractor, however, was later acquitted and freed after families of the victims forgave him in return for financial compensation, an action permitted under Pakistani law.