Security officials on Wednesday briefly detained 12 persons of a visiting US hip-hop troupe for an hour near the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Rawalpindi for taking ‘sensitive’ videos/photographs in the area.
The detained men, including 10 American nationals, were released after the US Embassy in Islamabad confirmed that the group was in fact a band called FEW Collective and were returning after performing a musical programme at the Fatima Jinnah Women University in Rawalpindi.
Traffic officials and security personnel sharing details of the incident told The Express Tribune that as many as 12 persons including three women were seen making videos of different buildings at the Kachari Chowk near district courts at noon in the city which is home to the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters and a number of sensitive military offices.
Mirza Waqas, a traffic warden, observed that men travelling in three Land Cruisers were busy making videos of the regional transport authority, excise office and regional income tax. When the traffic warden saw the riders were foreigners he tried to stop them but they sped away towards the airport.
Security and traffic officials intercepted the vehicles at a signal near the airport and took them into custody, a traffic warden revealed.
The persons were identified as Jamic Martin, Jonathan S L Mair, Panil Hywood, Aquil Chalton, Jathan Edyetox, Sawah Elahi, Manal, Zainab Rasheed, Asad Jafri, Zain Sadiq, Azfah Iqbal and Chaudhry Shahbaz Ahmed.
During interrogation carried out by intelligence agencies and area police officials, it was revealed that the Americans were not carrying their passports and travel documents.
The officials contacted the US embassy in Islamabad and allowed the band to leave after the US Embassy Deputy Information Officer Robert Raines confirmed they were in Rawalpindi to perform at a concert.
Raines said that the performers were taking pictures on a public street and did not know that they were not allowed to do so — also noting that no sensitive installations were visible from the embassy vehicle they were travelling in. Responding to a question, Raines said that they were not mistreated in any way by the security officials.
The foreigners reportedly confessed to making the videos but said that they had deleted all the data after learning about the matter being sensitive.
However, no such incident was reported by the Police Station Airport.
Hip-hop group member Asad Jafri summed up the dilemmas they faced with the security forces in one word: “annoying”.
When asked how it feels to be mistaken for a spy, Jafri told The Express Tribune that, “It happens… the mistrust between both nations is a contributing factor, but it’s still annoying.” (WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING FROM Vaqas Asghar)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2011.
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