Thursday, September 17, 2009

Timeline of Rahman Bunairee's really bad summer

UPDATED Feb 2012: See below

How the US government treats friendly visitors (courageous journalists on its payroll and Nobel Peace Laureates).

Journalist Rahman Bunairee had been invited to Washington D.C. to work for a year for VOA’s Deewa Radio, the Pashto language broadcasting service to the Afghan-Pakistan border region.  Upon his arrival on American soil,  immigration officials had a surprise in store for Bunairee.  Bunairee's really bad summer was about to get even worse.

Rahman Bunairee Timeline

Bunairee hired to worked as a stringer for Voice of America's Deewa Radio, which broadcasts in the Pashto language to the Pakistani-Afghan border region., also reports as a Karachi-based correspondent for Pakistan's Khyber Television." (LA Times)
Five journalists killed in Pakistan according to Committee to Protect Journalists (HPost)
Apr -- - Taliban militants first marched into Buner (McClatchy)
Apr -- -  In a report for Khyber TV, Bunairee's other employer, Bunairee was critical of the Taliban assault on Buner.(McClatchy)
Jul 06 - Bunairee appears on talk show.  Taliban allege "Bunairee had spoken against the militants on Deewa Radio and criticized the security forces for not launching action in Polan." (The News, Karachi)
Jul 07 - 60 persons arrive at Bunairee's home and "politely told his family members to vacate the house as they were going to blow up the structure."  Say Taliban angry that "Bunairee had spoken against the militants on Deewa Radio"  (the News)
Jul 08 - Bunairee's house in Polan village blown up by suspected militants (BBG)
Jul 09 -  "Bunairee moves his family to Karachi, but the threats and danger persisted. There were incidents in which gunmen climbed the wall of his bureau in Karachi when he was not there." (LA  Times), The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the Voice of America (VOA) issues second statement:  condemning  "the senseless attack on the home of VOA's Deewa Radio journalist Rahman Bunairee in Bunir, Pakistan on July 9." (KA Elliott/VOA)
Jun 12 - Another Pakistani journalist's house gets blown up.  Behroz Khan "became the second journalist whose house was destroyed by suspected Taleban militants in Buner in recent days." (BBC Monitoring)
Jul 17 -  "Asked about his take on the situation in Malakand division since the government has announced it was now safe, and internally displaced people (IDPs) are being shifted there, Bunairee said: "The fire that engulfed Malakand division has not been extinguished as yet, and I believe the war will continue for decades." (INSI)
Jul (late) - Bunairee "staying in a guest house and maintaining a very low profile"
Jul 30 - Immigration at Dulles International airport  detains Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire in a special processing area over two hours causing her to miss her connecting flight to Albuquerque (Ten Percent):
... when she told the U.S. Immigration Officer at Dulles airport that she was a Nobel Peace Laureate and showed him the documents concerning the Peace Laureate meeting she was attending in New Mexico, the Immigration Officer sarcastically said that detention “is going to happen every time you enter the United States,” and “you should get used to it.”
Aug 09 - Journalist Rahman Bunairee arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport with "a valid U.S. visa (visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad) and ample documentation of his sponsorship for a yearlong exchange program for the Voice of America, a U.S. government agency. (WaPo)
--- -- - Customs and Border Protection officials interrogate Bunairee, rejected his visa, label him an 'intending immigrant' and threatened to deport him.  
--- --  - sent to jail in Hampton Roads, Va.
Aug 10 - Bunairee in jail (WaPo)
Aug 11 - Bunairee in jail (WaPo)
Aug 12 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release. (WaPo)
Aug 13 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release. (WaPo)
Aug 14 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release. (WaPo), VOA Statement on "detention of stringer"
Aug 15 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release. (WaPo), LA Times story published
Aug 16 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release (WaPo),  Immigration officials question Bunairee "for about 20 minutes to determine whether he has the required 'credible fear' of returning" (McClatchy) [Jotman comment: WTF?]
Aug 17 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release. (WaPo)
Aug 18 - Bunairee in jail, exhaustive legal efforts by the State Department to obtain his release. (WaPo), McClatchy story published
Aug 19 - U.S. authorities free Bunairee under terms that forbid him to work.  Terms of his release also bar VOA from giving him any money, VOA's parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, issued a statement welcoming Bunairee's release, describing him as a man of extraordinary courage and dedication. (Dawn, Pakistan).
Aug 20 - Living off of charitable contributions. (WaPo)
Sept 15 - D. Jeffrey Hirschberg, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, writes in a  WaPo Op/Ed:
Rahman Bunairee works for Deewa Radio, the VOA's Pashto-language service targeted to the troubled Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that "we are being out-communicated by the Taliban and al-Qaeda" in the area, a circumstance she called "absolutely unacceptable." The U.S. envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, has argued that Taliban propaganda "is key to the insurgency's terror campaign" and that it must be countered. 
Recognizing the value of Deewa's contribution, Congress increased its funding early this summer to expand broadcasts. This means Deewa will need to attract more experienced journalists, including some from Pakistan, and quickly. 
If the Taliban were in charge of America's borders, wouldn't they have wanted to see Bunairee denied entry into the United States, and be treated like some kind of criminal?   

The Economic Times explains the paperwork confusion that apparently led to Rahman Bunairee's 10-day detainment.  But you don't put someone in jail for not having every piece of paper in perfect order.  Immigration law blogger Siskind asked: "I am left wondering why the State Department didn't just arrange with DHS to have Bunairee paroled in to the US in order to apply for asylum rather than going the J-1 route."  Good question.

Whatever one's views of the merit of the American military effort in Afghanistan, anyone can see that exposing Central Asians to quality journalism and the world of ideas is among the most constructive ways Western countries can engage the people of the region.  Moreover, compared the cost of planes, bombs, and soldiers, Voice of America is not expensive.  VOA is doing good work around the world. For example, blogging from inside Burma, I documented the important role Voice of America has played in helping to keep the Burmese people informed

But the story of Rahman Bunairee's really bad summer has a meaning that extends beyond the obvious importance of Bunairee's work, and the need for Voice of America. 

If this is the way the America treats foreigners who work for the US government, it really makes you wonder how America treats other friendly visitors -- friends who don't arrive on America's shores at the invitation of a US government agency.  The answer is alarming.  Many well-traveled non-Americans can tell you a "horror story."  Not only Pakistanis, but also Indonesians, Austrians, Italians, even Icelanders.  Even winners of  US government Fulbright scholarships have not been admitted.  Such stories not only make for lousy PR, the policies that give rise to them are bad for business.

US detention laws are such that travel to the former USSR probably posed far fewer risks for good law-abiding foreigners than a routine visit to the United States does today.  And the fate of the Soviet Union shows that once a country closes its borders to the world, its days of influence are numbered.

Update (Feb 2012): In May 2010 Rahman Bunairee received the David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award from VOA for his "daring and thought-provoking broadcasts."  The award cited "his reporting on the 2009 clashes between Pakistani troops and militants in Pakistan's tribal areas."   A VOA article describing his award states that "Bunairee fled to the United States after militants, apparently angered by his coverage, set off a bomb at his family home and threatened him." 

Rahman Bunairee now lives with his family in Washington D.C.. 

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