- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — Leading Pakistani journalist and Brookings scholar Ejaz Haider, detained by the INS for failing register with them, might have deliberately ignored the rules as a protest, the Justice Department said Thursday.

Haider "stated to the INS officials at Dulles airport he had written several articles about the registration process and was a vocal opponent of the program," Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told United Press International.

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He made the comments while entering the United States on Oct. 22, Martinez said.

"It is possible his failure to (register as required) was a deliberate effort to challenge the program publicly," he added.

Haider is the news editor and a columnist for The Friday Times — Pakistan's most prestigious weekly — and his detention, albeit brief, by the INS has sparked outrage on the subcontinent and a diplomatic row in Washington, where the Pakistani Foreign Minister raised the matter personally with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Haider came to the United States to work the Brookings Institution's South Asia program as research scholar.

Martinez said he was registered at the port of entry and advised to report to an INS office in 30-40 days.

He was also given written material, telling him what he needed to do.

The registration scheme — introduced on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — calls for all adult males from 25 mainly Muslim countries who are visiting the United States to register with the INS for fingerprinting, photographs and interviews. Green card holders and naturalized U.S. citizens are excluded.

Haider, however, told UPI that a few days after arriving in the country, he checked with INS and State Department officials who told him that there was no need for him to go for a second interview and registration.

"I even called the INS help line and spoke to a woman who told me that Pakistanis do not need to register," Haider said.

When Haider arrived in the United States Pakistan was not on the list of countries covered by the scheme. It was added to the list on Dec. 18, almost two months after his arrival.

Haider says that after making these initial checks, he got busy with his work and did not check with the INS again.

Martinez says airport registration is not just for those who come from the countries on the INS scheme list.

"We have registered people from 148 countries at the airports. That is almost the entire world," says Martinez.

According to him, people coming to the United States after Sept. 11, 2002, should do what the officer at the port of entry asks you to do. "The criteria at the port of entry is not country specific," he added.

As a person who has written critical articles about the registration program, Haider should have known what he was required to do, says Martinez.

Haider says he was detained for four to five hours and released without any money, as the INS officers who arrested him had asked him to leave his wallet at the Brookings Institution.

Martinez said Hiader was detained for only two hours for security checks and he was not handcuffed.

"Although failing to register is a criminal violation, he was not put on the deportation proceedings. We registered him the next day," said Martinez.

However, Haider says that his release and subsequent registration was not easily done. Brookings' president, and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot had to speak to senior State Department officials to arrange it.

"It was shocking for me. It is not the America I had visited before," he added.

Haider is not the only one shocked by his detention.

"I was shocked at what they did and also that they did not apologize," says Stephen P. Cohen, head of the Brookings South Asia program for which Haider worked.

"On four separate occasions — sometimes publicly, sometimes privately — I had to talk to the Pakistan government to get journalists released. I never thought I would see the day when I had to approach my own government to have them release a journalist."

Cohen fears that incidents like this may happen again because of political pressure from Congress and the public.

"But there's one thing about the United States, while we do make terrible mistakes, often we correct those mistakes."

Haider agrees. "There have been earlier moments when American governments have tried to curb civil liberties but the American society has fought back, this may happen again," he says.

"This incident is going to mobilize a lot of opinion, not just of minorities, but also of Americans that the system is broken and needs fixed, INS is asked to do a job for which it is not trained," says Cohen.

Haider could not be reached for comment on Martinez's remarks.

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