Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Interview Ben Affleck? Go directly to jail! Not that anyone should be surprised, but now comes evidence that the administration's thuggishness toward foreign visitors extends to journalists as well.

According to this December 13 editorial in the Toledo Blade, of all places, "immigration and customs people are arresting, detaining, and deporting journalists arriving here without special visas. This is so even when they come from nations whose citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa if they are arriving as tourists or on business."

The Blade recounts the story of Peter Krobath, of an Austrian entertainment magazine called Skip, who was jailed overnight like a common criminal after he arrived in the US to interview Ben Affleck and attend a screening of the movie Paycheck. His crime: showing up without a visa.

There are other horror stories as well. Read the whole thing.

More information is available on the website of the International Press Institute, based in Austria. Be sure to check out this letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, which includes more details on Krobath's detention. This is outrageous:

When Mr. Krobath landed at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) on 2 December 2003 to cover the above-mentioned junket, he was questioned about the purpose of his visit and further interrogated for almost five hours. After he was body-searched, and his photograph and fingerprints were taken, two security officers led him handcuffed to an isolation room. Later on he was transferred to a downtown prison where he spent the night together with about 45 persons (some of whom were convicted criminals) in a room with iron benches and two open toilet facilities but without blankets despite the low temperature. His luggage and his personal belongings were kept separately.

The letter urges Powell to support a resolution by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which has asked Congress to include journalists in the US Visa Waiver Program for Visitors from Friendly Countries.

Unfortunately, ASNE's website does not appear to have anything on it about this grotesque assault on the civil liberties of international visitors.

This story bears watching.

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