Interior ministry directs US blogger Cynthia Ritchie to leave country in 15 days

Published September 2, 2020
"We have a right to file an appeal & will do so. A higher forum must entertain my application & upon merits grant visa," Ritchie said. — Photo via Twitter
"We have a right to file an appeal & will do so. A higher forum must entertain my application & upon merits grant visa," Ritchie said. — Photo via Twitter

The Ministry of Interior on Wednesday rejected an application for visa extension of US blogger Cynthia Ritchie, directing her to leave the country within 15 days, Radio Pakistan reported.

The development comes a day after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) expressed dissatisfaction over the interior ministry's recent order related to the validity of Ritchie’s visa and gave the government a final opportunity to render proper assistance.

In June, the IHC had sought an explanation from the ministry about the status and terms and conditions of the visa issued to Ritchie, asking it to explain if she was entitled to making political statements.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had sought the explanation while taking up a petition filed by an activist of the PPP.

The petitioner, Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed, adopted in the petition that Ritchie is a foreign national and she has stayed in Pakistan without a valid visa. He sought her deportation.

On Tuesday, the deputy attorney general submitted a copy of a recent order passed by the interior ministry’s secretary to the IHC. The court noted that the secretary had not made reference to any law or policy and appeared to have solely relied on Ritchie's statement.

The order is self-contradictory and in conflict with the previous order, the IHC observed.

The secretary conceded in his order that Cynthia Ritchie was granted a work visa in violation of policy and laws.

The court observed that the interior secretary had been evasive in recording his findings regarding the crucial question: whether a foreign national visiting Pakistan on the basis of a business visa was entitled to give statements of a political nature.

The court then gave a final opportunity to the federal government to render proper assistance, noting that its conduct so far had raised questions of public importance having consequences relating to enforcement of fundamental rights.

“In case an officer conversant with the applicable laws/policy does not appear on the date fixed, then this court will consider summoning the Secretary, Ministry of Interior, in person,” the court's order read.

Meanwhile, Ritchie claimed via a tweet that the interior ministry had rejected her application "under pressure".

"The MoI — under pressure best known to them — has for the first time, in my over 10+ years in Pakistan, rejected my visa application. No reason has been given. We have a right to file an appeal & will do so. A higher forum must entertain my application & upon merits grant visa," she said.

Judge asked to re-examine Cynthia's plea for FIR

Also on Tuesday, the IHC referred back for review the matter related to registration of a First Information Report (FIR) against former interior minister Rehman Malik over alleged rape of Ritchie.

Additional District and Sessions Judge Nasir Javed Rana, in his capacity as Justice of Peace, had dismissed a petition filed by Ritchie under sections 22-A and 22-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (CrPC), seeking a directive for police to register a criminal case against Rehman Malik.

The IHC chief justice observed that the arguments advanced by Malik's counsel were not in consonance with the principles and law enunciated by the Supreme Court.

The court noted that the Supreme Court had elaborately highlighted the law regarding scope of jurisdiction vested in an ex-officio Justice of Peace.

According to Justice Minallah, "the functions were quasi-judicial in nature because the ex-officio Justice of Peace is required to entertain applications, examine record and after hearing the parties pass orders and issue directions with due application of mind".

The court order states: "It appears that the learned Ex-Officio Justice of Peace, while passing the impugned order, had not taken to consideration the principles and law enunciated by the august Supreme Court."

Subsequently, Justice Minallah set aside the ADSJ’s order and referred the matter back to him.

The court asked the district and sessions judge "to assign the matter to a designated Ex-Officio Justice of Peace, other than the judicial officer who had passed the impugned order dated Aug 5, 2020".

Justice Minallah set a three-week deadline for a decision on the matter.

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