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Pakistan 13 January 2008

Concern about situation of foreign journalists after New York Times writer forced to leave

Reporters Without Borders condemns US researcher and freelance journalist Nicholas Schmidle’s forced departure from Pakistan. Schmidle, who wrote an article entitled “Next-Gen Taliban” for the 6 January issue of the New York Times Magazine, left the country on 11 January after receiving a deportation order.

“This does not bode well for the situation of foreign journalists, especially the many reporters who will be going to Pakistan to cover the legislative elections due to take place in a month from now,” the press freedom organisation said. “The government’s claim that Schmidle was not a journalist is not reassuring.”

Schmidle had written several articles for US publications during the past year or so, which he had spent working as a researcher in Pakistan. He interviewed Taliban chiefs in Quetta for his New York Times Magazine story of 6 January.

The federal government’s chief information officer, Chaudhry Rashid, told Reporters Without Borders: “He is not a journalist, he is a researcher. And he was not sent out. He himself left the country to pre-empt his deportation.”

Another information ministry official was quoted by the Pakistani press as saying the initial deportation order was rescinded and that Schmidle left the country of his own choice.

This is the second time that journalists have been expelled in the past two months. Isambard Wilkinson and Colin Freeman of the London-based Daily Telegraph and Damien McElroy of the sister Sunday Telegraph were ordered to leave the country within 72-hours on 11 November after the Daily Telegraph published an editorial that was very critical of President Pervez Musharraf.

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