Pakistani VOA journalist released from U.S. detention

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 19, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Immigration officials released a Voice of America journalist Wednesday after deciding he could apply to remain in the U.S. because of a "credible fear" of being tortured or persecuted in his native Pakistan, his attorney said.

Early last month, Rahman Bunairee's house in a northern Pakistani village was blown up. According to journalists working in the region, Taliban militants were behind the attack.

Bunairee was detained Aug. 9 arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport on a visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. He'd planned to work in a yearlong exchange program for the U.S. government-funded VOA, officials with the agency said.

"Our people have seen him and he's okay. He is now reviewing his legal options," said Joan Mower, a VOA spokeswoman.

The detention of the journalist came as U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke was visiting Pakistan to meet with government and opposition leaders in what was described as a major diplomatic effort.

Bunairee's lawyer, Paul Virtue, said it appeared that immigration officers had concluded "he was coming in not to take part in the exchange program, but to seek protection from harm in his country."

After more than a week in custody, Bunairee was interviewed Tuesday by immigration officials who determined he could apply for asylum or other protections that would allow him to stay.

Journalists in Pakistan told McClatchy that Bunairee had received threats from the Taliban because of his reporting.

Bunairee, who turned 34 while he's been in immigration custody, has worked for Voice of America in Pakistan since 2006.

Matthew Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, confirmed Bunairee's release, but said he couldn't provide details about the case for privacy reasons.

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