ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Friday informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that the visa of US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie had expired in February this year. It said Ms Ritchie had applied for an extension in the visa, which was subject to clearance of her name by intelligence agencies.
Deputy Attorney General Syed Mohammad Tayyab, in response to the petition seeking deportation of Ms Ritchie, submitted a reply by the interior ministry.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had last week sought an explanation from the interior ministry about the status and terms and conditions of the visa issued to Ms Ritchie, asking it to explain if she was entitled to making political statements.
The petitioner, Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed who is an activist of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has adopted in the petition that Ms Ritchie is a foreign national and she has stayed in Pakistan without a valid visa. He sought her deportation.
Mr Tayyab told the court that after the expiry of her visa in February, Ms Ritchie had applied for extension; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government extended the validity of all visas till Aug 31. He said that because of standing instructions of the federal government the interior ministry had already extended the visas of all foreign nationals till Aug 31.
A Peshawar-based businessman has been shown as her sponsor
The application of Ms Ritchie is pending before the interior ministry.
The deputy attorney general said the US blogger’s application had also been referred to intelligence agencies and her further stay in Pakistan was subject to clearance of her name by them.
As per the interior ministry’s reply, Ms Ritchie obtained a business visa in 2017. A Peshawar-based businessman has been shown as her sponsor in the visa application form. Her visa has been extended from time to time and it finally expired in February.
The joint interior secretary informed the court that 96 countries were included in the Business Friendly list of Pakistan. He said the citizens of these countries could obtain a business visa for a term of one year to five years. He, however, said that there was no hard and fast rule for issuance of visa for any specified term.
Chief Justice Minallah termed the the interior ministry’s response not satisfactory.
Sardar Latif Khan Khosa, the petitioner’s counsel, informed the court that Ms Ritchie was not a registered voter and yet she had been allowed and facilitated to interfere and comment on political matters. He pointed out that in a recent tweet, she suggested DNA test for PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Mr Khosa requested the court to impose a ban on political tweets of the US blogger.
Chief Justice Minallah remarked that he had already issued a directive for the interior ministry to apprise the court of the terms and condition of Ms Ritchie’s visa.
The court directed the interior ministry to pass a speaking order on the matter related to the political communication of Ms Ritchie after hearing her as well as the point of view of the complainant side.
Further hearing in this matter has been adjourned till July 10.
It may be mentioned that an additional district and sessions judge has already restrained Ms Ritchie from giving statements against PPP leader Rehman Malik. However, since the blogger continued tweeting against Mr Malik, the latter filed a contempt petition in the same court.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020