The Ministry of Interior on Wednesday rejected US blogger Cynthia Dawn Ritchie's visa extension request and ordered her to leave Pakistan within 15 days.
However, in another interesting development, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) set aside a lower court’s decision to reject filing a case against a former interior minister on Ritchie’s complaint.
The ministry took the decision to deport the US citizen – who is a vocal critic of the PPP leaders including its slain chairperson Benazir Bhutto – a day after the IHC ordered it to explain the country’s business visa policy and gave it one last chance to satisfy the court.
A PPP supporter Iftikhar Ahmed had moved the IHC against Ritchie, claiming that the blogger was staying in Pakistan even after expiry of her business visa on March 2.
The court on July 10 directed the Ministry of Interior to decide about Ritchie’s stay in Pakistan through a speaking order. On July 17, the ministry gave the US blogger a clean chit and allowed her to stay in the country till August 31.
In its report submitted to the IHC, the ministry had said: “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 and, therefore, she was still staying in Pakistan under a valid visa as extended by the Ministry of Interior.”
The IHC on August 5, however, rejected the Ministry of Interior’s report on Ritchie and gave it three-week time to reconcile its report.
Resuming hearing of the petition on September 1, the IHC asked the ministry about the country’s business visa policy.
The court also restrained the blogger from speaking against political figures of the country and her lawyer, Imran Feroze, had assured the court of not making any statements.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah had said the order issued by the interior secretary was a confession of issuing work visa to Ritchie against the law. The interior secretary’s decision had raised serious questions, the chief justice said.
He said either the ministry was unaware of the visa policy or it had ignored it in the recent case. Laws and policies must be applied in all cases in a non-discriminatory and transparent manner, he stressed.
“The recent decision of the interior secretary contradicted the previous decision. The interior secretary relied solely on Ritchie’s statement and did not cite any law. The interior ministry could not answer the court’s questions about the secretary’s decision,” he had noted.
Separately, the IHC also set aside a sessions court’s decision not to allow Ritchie’s request to register a case against PPP leader and former interior minister Rehman Malik.
On June 17, Cynthia had filed an application with the Secretariat Police Station, stating that the former interior minister in connivance with former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had employed the PPP’s media cell to intimidate, threaten, harass and defame her on social media.
She had also accused Malik, right now chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, of raping her at his residence in 2011. Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Nasir Javed Rana had, however, dismissed the petition.
The blogger had moved the IHC against the verdict and IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Wednesday issued a six-page order, allowing the petition and setting aside the sessions court order.
“The petition filed by the petitioner [Ritchie] shall be treated as pending. The learned Sessions Judge, Islamabad (West) is expected to assign the matter to a designated Ex-Officio Justice of Peace, other than the judicial officer who had passed the impugned order, dated 05-08-2020,” he noted.
He also ordered the lower court to decide the complaint against Rehman Malik in three weeks.