Spooks ‘force out’ Italian journalist
By: Murtaza Ali Shah
LONDON: A freelance Italian journalist has alleged that she was forced out of Pakistan on the instruction of Pakistan’s spy agencies because of her friendship with Baloch leader Mehran Baloch.
Francesca Marino, who has authored a book titled Apocalypse Pakistan, was issued a regular visa by the Pakistani embassy in Rome on October 25, but she found out she was put on the blacklist when she arrived in Karachi to interview Pakistani politicians, including former cricket star Imran Khan and Khair Bux Marri, and to meet some friends.
Speaking to The News, Marino complained that Pakistani police detained her all night and kept in a cell, ‘without a lawyer and without telling me what the issue was’. She alleges that the powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency ‘blacklisted my visa a couple of days after it had been issued and there was an order to arrest me and charging me for anti-Pakistani activities’.
Marino’s hosts in Pakistan contacted Interior Minister Rehman Malik who secured 72 hours visa for the journalist to stay in Pakistan but she says that her hosts and the Italian Ambassador to Pakistan advised her to leave ‘as soon as possible because nobody could rule out the chance of having a car accident, a random bullet or whatever’.
She refutes the allegation that she ever took part in anti-Pakistani activity but says that her friendship with Baloch leader Mehran Baloch, who represents Balochistan at the United Nations sessions, has been picked up by Pakistan. She said she has attended many events with Mehran in Brussels, the latest being at the South Asia Democratic Forum, where she was photographed besides him and her speeches recorded. She suspects that she came under scanner after she campaigned against the human rights violations in Balochistan.
After flying from Karachi to Lahore, the Italian Ambassador gave Marino a car in Lahore driven by an Italian intelligence man to make sure nothing would happen to her during the night but she took the first flight out of Pakistan for fear of being attacked.
She alleges she was questioned about her frequent trips to India, where her husband is buried and has adopted an Indian child. She says she remains committed to her journalistic and research work and doesn’t harbour any particular agenda.
Marino told The News that the matter of her ‘mistreatment’ will be raised in the Italian Parliament. Separately, the Journalist Trade Union in Italy has also condemned the harassment of the journalist.
The News tried to get an official version on the Italian journalist’s version but all the media contacts in Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) passed the matter to the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Information but the press officers in these two departments said they were unable to comment on the story or verify the facts.
Source: The News