ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Interior has informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie is living in Pakistan on an ‘extended’ visa and she is working on film projects in collaboration with the military’s media affairs wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.
The Ministry in its report submitted to the IHC on Friday stated that Ms Ritchie “informed in her application that she had been working with Walkabout Films in collaboration with ISPR and the KPK Government on various film projects in the country. She further stated that she was waiting for complete documents for the formal extension of her business visa for one year which may take a few more days therefore she requested for a temporary extension of 30 days in her visa.”
“She also attached a letter no. 01/IAAD/2018 dated 27.12.2018 from ISPR stating that Walkabout Films Private Limited is undertaking various projects in collaboration with ISPR and she is working with Walkabout Films on some projects,” the report said.
Interior ministry says US blogger is living on ‘extended’ visa
Additional Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Khokhar submitted that Ms Ritchie’s visa stood extended till August 31 and she had not committed any illegality or any undesirable or anti-state activity as alleged.
The court adjourned the hearing till next week for final arguments on the petition of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) activist Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed, who had challenged her long stay in Pakistan after the expiry of her business visa in March and alleged involvement in a media campaign against leaders of the opposition party.
According to the petition, her business visa expired on March 2, 2020 and she was not entitled to stay in Pakistan afterwards. The business via had been granted on March 18, 2019 without fulfilling the legal formalities, the petitioner alleged, adding that she also misstated information in her visa extension application submitted to the Ministry of Interior after the expiry of her business visa in March.
The petitioner referred to various activities of the respondent and her media statements and social media posts, which according to him were derogatory and objectionable.
According to the Interior Ministry’s report, “Cynthia D. Ritchie denied all the allegations against her, she stated that her visa expired on March 2, 2020 and she submitted an application before the date of expiry. However, due to Covid-19 situation, no extensions were being processed and all foreigners were granted extension, therefore, she was still staying in Pakistan under a valid visa as extended by the Ministry of Interior.”
Regarding her visa, Ms Ritchie said it was not mandatory for every business visa holder to register a company in Pakistan rather business could be carried out in partnership with other companies. She said she was an active taxpayer in the US and also annexed copies of various documents issued by Internal Revenue Service of Department of the Treasury and others regarding her company in the US with the name of DIFFERENT LENS PRODUCTION LLC registered with California Secretary of State.
She said the police authorities in Islamabad had issued her an entry pass for her residence in Diplomatic Enclave after all necessary verifications as police were informed about her movements.
About her visits to the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the US blogger explained that interviewing tribal leaders and going anywhere in Pakistan was not a crime under any law of Pakistan as she always travelled with appropriate clearances from authorities concerned. She also clarified her statements in social media and denied that she had committed any crime of defamation against any political leadership, according to the Ministry of Interior.
The report further stated that her application for extension in visa was still under process. As per record the application for visa extension was received in March 2020, however due to Covid-19 situation and general extension in visa validity of foreign nationals it was processed in the concerned section on June 2.
“As far as the activities of Ritchie on social media as alleged in the complaint are concerned, this Ministry has not received any adverse report from any concerned organisation / agency so far,” the report said.
According to the Interior Ministry, the matter related to her social media post is already sub judice and being probed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. However, the ministry also claimed that it had not received any adverse report on the activities of the respondent on social media as being alleged by the petitioner and therefore no action by the ministry was required at this stage.
The report then added that the respondent was required to strictly comply with the laws of Pakistan while staying and doing business in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2020