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US Embassy diplomatic immunity in a damages suit

PESHAWAR: A local court has directed a local journalist to submit a reply in a case in which the United States Embassy claimed diplomatic immunity in a damages suit filed by him.

The court of Additional District and Sessions Judge Nasrullah Khan directed the counsel for the petitioner, Hashim Khan, to appear before the court on June 28 and argue about the issue of diplomatic immunity claimed by the US embassy.

The court was taking up the case filed by senior journalist, Mehmood Jan Babar, who had filed the damages suit, seeking $20 million damages for “subjecting him to humiliation, physical and mental torture and financial loss.”

The petitioner accused the respondents of breaching their respective duties and obligations he was entitled to. “Your described conduct acts, omissions, negligence [etc.] were willful and performed with actual or implied malice. Punitive exemplary and compensatory damages are, therefore, appropriate and recoverable in this instance,” argued his counsel.

The counsel stated that the US Embassy issued in August 2016 a five-year valid professional Visa “I” Type to his client, a senior journalist with 25 years’ experience in print and electronic media.

He said his client was already covering the US presidential elections in the past and had planned to visit the US to provide his readers and viewers with the firsthand information on the American elections set for November 03, 2020.

The counsel said his client contacted the Turkish Airlines for a ticket which after online verification/confirmation of his visa status issued to him a ticket at the cost of 877.55 US dollars for the connected flight TK711 Turkish Airlines A330-300 scheduled to depart on October 25, 2020 at 05:10 am from Islamabad Airport to Istanbul in Turkey for onward flight to New York.

He said when my client reached the Immigration Desk at the Islamabad Airport, an on-duty officer checked online and verified his travelling documents including passport, ticket and visa status. And after finding all documents correct, genuine and valid, allowed him to board flight TK711 Turkish Airlines A330-300.

The counsel said after six-hour journey, his client reached Istanbul where he was made to wait for around seven hours to board the next connecting flight. However, the airlines and Turkish immigration in an alleged offensive and assaulting manner stopped him from boarding the flight for New York.

He said his client repeatedly asked the reasons but the airline and immigration section did not cite any reason and forced him to return to Islamabad in an “undignified and insulting manner.”

The counsel said on return his client contacted the airlines in question through an email as to why it had sent him back to Pakistan halfway. In its reply, the counsel said, the airlines informed his client that the US Embassy had revoked his visa.

He said the US Embassy responding to his email stated that his “visa was revoked under Section 221(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” However, no reasons, whatsoever, were mentioned in the reply.

Instead, the counsel added, the US Embassy asked his client to surrender his passport so that his visa could be cancelled.

“The airlines had a duty to check and verify visa status before issuance of international ticket. While the immigration officer was duty-bound to verify validity and correctness of travelling documents, including passport, ticket and visa status. The embassy is responsible, duty-bound and under obligation to inform the people concerned before cancellation of [any] visa,” the counsel maintained.

The Consular Section of the US Embassy in Islamabad and Immigration Desk Office, Islamabad were made parties in the damages suit. On the other hand, the U.S. Embassy took the plea that the legal documents were not sent to them through proper channel. It said the plaintiff did not provide 60 days’ notice and didn’t include sufficient information about the case, adding the manner and timing of service were defective.”

Besides, it argued that under the customary international law, a foreign sovereign was not required to file a responsive pleading or appear before the courts or other tribunals of another state unless proper service of process is provided.

The Turkish Airlines has questioned the maintainability of the case, challenging its territorial jurisdiction.

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