Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has ordered the expulsion of the Islamabad bureau chief for The New York Times on the eve of national elections, the newspaper said Friday. The Times has strongly protested the move and is seeking his reinstatement.
The ministry did not give any detailed explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered by police officers in the form of a two-sentence letter to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home.
“It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities,” the order stated. “You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours.”
The timing of the order means that Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections, the first in the country’s history in which one elected civilian government completes its term and hands over power to another elected government.
Mr. Walsh, 39, is a veteran correspondent who has lived and worked in Pakistan for nine years, most of it for The Guardian newspaper of Britain. He was hired by The Times in January 2012 and has written extensively about the country’s violent political convulsions, Islamist insurgency and sometimes tense relations with the United States, which has been conducting drone attacks on militants in Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan.
Jill Abramson, the newspaper’s executive editor, expressed concern about the order in a letter of protest to Pakistan’s interior minister, Malik Muhammad Habib Khan, describing Mr. Walsh as a “reporter of integrity who has at all times offered balanced, nuanced and factual reporting on Pakistan.” She asked the minister to reinstate Mr. Walsh’s visa.
The accusation of undesirable activities, she wrote, “is vague and unsupported, and Mr. Walsh has received no further explanation of any alleged wrongdoing.” The timing of the order was also a surprise, she wrote, coming as Pakistan is holding national elections that are regarded as an important democratic milestone.
“The expulsion of an established journalist, on the day of the voting, contradicts that impression,” she wrote.
Pakistani officials did not respond to repeated requests for details over the past two days.
The period leading up to the elections has been particularly violent, with suicide bombings and other attacks by militants impairing the ability of several parties to campaign effectively.
The Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups have threatened many candidates, particularly members of liberal and secular parties. On Thursday, unidentified gunmen kidnapped a candidate who is a son of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, throwing the election into more turmoil.
Mr. Walsh said the circumstances of the expulsion order’s delivery were highly unusual. He had been on a social visit Thursday evening, he said, when he received a phone call from an unrecognized number advising him to “come home now.”
Mr. Walsh arrived to find a half-dozen police officers and a plainclothes officer waiting outside. The plainclothes officer approached his front gate, handed him the letter and asked him to sign for it.
“I opened the letter in front of him because I knew it was something serious,” he said. “This was a complete bolt from the blue. I had no inclination that anything of this sort was coming.”
Free-press advocates expressed anger at the news, saying that it reinforced Pakistan’s reputation as one of the most inhospitable countries for journalists.
“The expulsion of Declan Walsh shows just how much the authorities fear independent media coverage,” Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement on the group’s Web site. “The vagueness and the late-night delivery of the expulsion order smack of a need to intimidate foreign and local journalists on the eve of historic elections that could herald the growth of democracy in Pakistan.”
Pakistani journalists are routinely intimidated, assaulted or worse. According to Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group based in Paris, Pakistan has been the world’s deadliest country for journalists since the start of 2013, with six killed in connection with their work. The Committee to Protect Journalists said the Pakistani authorities had failed to prosecute a single suspect in the 23 murders of journalists over the past decade.