Mercury reporter held as spy in Pakistan jail

Sunday Mercury investigations editor Amardeep Bassey, held in a crowded jail on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan since last Friday, has received a message from his editor that everything possible is being done to free him.

In return, Bassey has managed to send two e-mail messages to his editor via a friend outside the prison.

Bassey said in the first note: "As you are probably aware I am in Landi Kotal jail. I am fine and being treated well. Do not worry. I am fine and sorry for this inconvenience."

The second read:

"Conditions are bearable because the people here in jail are good and looking after me. I am in good health."

Sunday Mercury editor David Brookes told Press Gazette that Bassey’s arrest was due to a minor passport discrepancy. But the 29-year-old journalist, who has been working from both Pakistan and Kabul, has been accused of spying.

"These accusations are ludicrous," said Brookes, who described Bassey, with the paper for three years, as an award-winning journalist respected by his colleagues. The Mercury did not know he had been arrested until Sunday. Since then the Foreign Office and the High Commissioner in Islamabad have been putting on pressure to have Bassey declared a bona fide journalist and released.

He originally went to Kabul with a Foreign Office media delegation to report on the efforts of the British peacekeeping force. He stayed on, sending dispatches from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and was returning from Kabul. He was accompanied by a Human Rights Commission member and a guide, both of whom are imprisoned with him.

He was stopped in the Khyber Pass because his passport did not have an exit stamp from the last time he had been in the country. Bassey, though British born and bred, does have an Indian family and the guards are believed to have been suspicious when they saw his name.

Brookes has spoken to the HR Commissioner in Peshawar, Tariq Khan, who visited Bassey on Saturday. The Prime Minister’s office is being kept informed of the situation, a group of Midlands MEPs is drafting a letter in Bassey’s support and the NUJ, IFJ and Reporters Sans Fronti?res are lobbying on his behalf.

"I would love to say I am hopeful he will be out soon but consular access may take up to two weeks," said Brookes, who is worried about Bassey being kept in a cell with 20 others.

Sunday Mercury’s owner, Trinity Mirror, said: "The spying allegation is absolute nonsense. We are talking to his family and to the Foreign Office, and doing everything we can to effect his earliest possible release." Bassey’s colleagues came in at 4pm on Sunday to produce a special edition of the Mercury for sale late on Sunday evening.


By Jean Morgan

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