EXPRESS TRIBUNE STOLE MY PASSPORT
Dear International Herald Tribune/ Global New York Times:
I know that your association with The Express Tribune is a business deal that essentially gets your papers printed and distributed on someone else’s tab, but do you really want to lend your name to this?
While on a journalistic fellowship sponsored by Express, I willingly handed over my passport to an Express editor who was to obtain a visa extension for me. But once the visa was settled, the company refused to return my passport. For at least five weeks after the extension was granted, Express withheld my documents and lied about their whereabouts, despite my requesting their return on the phone, in person and via email daily.
My documents were eventually returned when a sub-editor called security to have me removed for yelling in the newsroom The security guard told the editor he wasn’t going to lie to me any longer and to hand over my passport. The company had also been lying about the validity of my visa in order to restrict my movement. Both an editor and the publisher told me in writing that my visa ended on July 31, so I needed to leave the country. When my passport was returned, I was able to see that my visa is valid till October 2011.
Turns out many, many people at Express knew about this. Faria Syed, web sub-editor, was holding the passport in her locked desk drawer on publisher Bilal Lakani’s orders. Kamal Siddiqi, managing editor was complicit, as was Mahim Maher, the city editor, who told another newsroom employee that I am really “overreacting.”
Despite the fact that journalism is supposed to be a bastion of truth and free information, The Express Tribune lied to me and illegally withheld my documents. Their plan, as relayed to a subeditor by Kamal Siddiqi, was to “return her passport ten minutes before she got on the plane”—to go back to the US.
Now, why would they do this? Kamal explained that as well: my official fellowship ended a few months ago, but I wanted to stay in Pakistan. My obligation to Express was up. I went to Kamal and asked him if they wanted to keep me. If not, I told him I was ready to explore other opportunities in the country. He assured me that they wanted me to stay. But from that moment on, accomplishing anything at Express grew incredibly difficult. I was denied translators, transportation, bylines and ultimately my stipend. I kept going through the proper channels, scheduling meetings with the editor and the publisher to figure out what was happening. Kamal later admitted that Express didn’t want the liability of keeping me in Pakistan, but they also didn’t want me to work for a competing Pakistani publication. They were trying to sabotage my experience so that I would choose to go home. When I showed no signs of letting up, when I begin to use friends as translators and find my own transportation, I was falsely notified by Express that my visa had expired and I needed to leave the country. They would handle the travel arrangements (at my expense, of course), but I couldn’t have my passport just yet because the travel agent needed it, the Ministry of Interior had it, the Islamabad bureau had it, etc. They offered a variety of excuses.
I realized something was up quickly and became increasingly insistent about my passport, contacting U.S. and Pakistani officials. After days of phone calls, I knew for sure that my passport was being held by someone at Express.
Somehow, the higher-ups at Express thought, because they didn’t want me to work for them or work for anyone else, that justified the unethical and criminal act of withholding my documents. And I am convinced that many, many people — and particularly all the senior editors and high level reporters — at the Karachi bureau knew about it.
IHT, are you comfortable lending your masthead to a newspaper this corrupt, run by executives driven by ego and propaganda rather than facts? Because my naivete is my own, but your affiliation is part of what fueled my unwarranted trust in The Express Tribune and those who staff it.