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US blogger challenges interior ministry’s decision in IHC


American blogger Cynthia Dawn Ritchie on Saturday filed an application in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) decision to deny her a visa extension.

The US blogger made the interior secretary and Federal Investigation Agency director general parties in the case and stated that she had provided all documents related to her visa application to the MoI.

She maintained that the interior ministry did not listen to her stance nor did it mention any reason for denying her extension in the visa.

She said it was her legal right that the ministry should have listened to her point of view before announcing the decision.

“[I] had filed another application for work/business visa due to the change of sponsor. No decision was taken on my new application due to the coronavirus,” the petition said.

“The interior ministry had said before the high court that [I am] not involved in anti-state or illegal activities,” it added.

The US blogger said that by rejecting an extension in her visa, an impression would be created internationally that the interior ministry was deliberately denying her legal right of representation.

Cynthia said that the MoI did not full the legal obligations while issuing the order.

She requested the court to declare the interior ministry’s decision of September 2 null and void and order it to extend her work visa.

On Wednesday, the interior ministry had declined to extend the visa of Cynthia and asked her to leave the country within 15 days.

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.

Pakistan Peoples Party supporter Iftikhar Ahmed had moved the IHC against Cynthia, claiming that she had been staying in Pakistan even after the expiry of her business visa on March 2.

The court on July 10 directed the interior ministry to decide about her 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 until August 31.

In its report submitted to the IHC, the ministry 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 the US blogger and granted 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 US blogger from speaking against political figures of the country and her lawyer, Imran Feroze, had assured the court of not making any statements.

The IHC chief justice said the order issued by the interior secretary was a confession of issuing work visa to Cynthia and was against the law.

The interior secretary’s decision had raised serious questions, the chief justice said.

“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 noted.

Separately, the IHC also set aside a sessions court’s decision not to allow Cynthia’s request to register a case against PPP leader and former interior minister Rehman Malik.

On June 17, Cynthia filed an application with the Secretariat Police Station, stating that the former interior minister Rehman Malik in connivance with former premier Yousaf Raza Gillani had employed the PPP’s media cell to intimidate, threaten, harass and defame her on social media.

She also accused Malik, 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.

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