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Pakistani journalists’ deportation due to lack of travel plans: immigration official

Pakistani journalists Waqar Zaka, left, and Aamir Liaquat Husain were deported after attempting to enter Burma on Saturday. (Photo: Twitter)

Despite the deportation of Pakistani journalists Aamir Liaquat Husain and Waqar Zaka late last week, a Burmese immigration official insists that the two men are welcome to return to Burma — provided that their travel itineraries are properly laid out.

Yangon International Airport immigration officer Aung Thiha told DVB on Tuesday that the journalists were stopped at passport control Saturday evening after they failed to provide adequate details related to their stay in Burma. The official noted the heightened state of security in Burma in recent weeks and said the two men could not provide information on accommodation arrangements, if any, that they had made for their stay in the country.

“When they replied to me that they didn’t know yet where they would stay here, we had to consider that they intended to do something [untoward] here. So, we decided to deport them in accordance with immigration law. But they can visit again if they plan the accommodation and travel plans” in advance, he said.

The two men were deported at a time of rising tension between Buddhist-majority Burma and much of the Islamic world in the aftermath of a deadly 25 August assault by Muslim militants identifying themselves under the banner of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police posts in Arakan State. The Burma Army’s counter-insurgency campaign has triggered an exodus of more than 300,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to UN humanitarian aid workers.

The Pakistani journalists made no secret of their advocacy for self-identifying Rohingya Muslims, with multiple Twitter posts from the two highlighting the plight of the stateless minority and criticising the Burmese government. If they were attempting to visit Burma in a professional capacity, however, it was not reflected in the visas that they applied for, Aung Thiha told DVB.

“I saw their visas … just tourist visas,” the immigration officer said. “And also, they didn’t say that they intended to go to Rakhine [Arakan] State. It should be viewed with suspicion. If other people from other countries come to Myanmar like this, we will also deport them. Tourist visa holders need to complete a tour plan before departure from their countries [of origin].”

Aamir Liaquat Husain, an anchor for BOL News, tweeted that he and Waqar Zaka were detained “illegally” for more than six hours, but Aung Thiha said the lengthy holding period was simply due to the hour at which their in-bound flight from Bangkok landed.

“We have no authority to detain someone without reason. But we can do it for questioning in the name of state security, and the flight time was 10:30 p.m. So, it took a long time to get the return flight tickets,” said Aung Thiha.

On Sunday, BOL News confirmed that Aamir Liaquat Husain and Waqar Zaka had returned safely to Pakistan.

Aamir Liaquat Husain is a well-known Pakistani TV anchor who joined BOL News in 2016. Prior to joining the network, he was a member of the Pakistani National Assembly, from 2002 to 2007, and also served a stint as the country’s minister of religious affairs.

The video journalist Waqar Zaka — who was also deported on Saturday — previously visited Burma in 2015, when he reported on the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State.

The two men’s passports may have put them in the crosshairs for Burmese immigration authorities: The purported leader of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army is said to have ties to Pakistan, and this week a “secret” communique from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the President’s Office circulated on social media, warning of a Pakistani man with supposed intentions to enter Burma and “make attacks.”

DVB was not able to independently verify the authenticity of that communique.