Two journalists detainedAnother may be in government custody

New York, December 22, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about two journalists who were arrested in Pakistan last week: Marc Epstein, a reporter with the French news magazine L’Express, and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, a L’Express photographer.

CPJ is also investigating the whereabouts of Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a local journalist working as their guide who has been missing since December 16, according to his family.

The French journalists went on hunger strike at the Malir District Jail in Karachi earlier today to protest their detention but later ended it on advice from their lawyer, according to Agence France-Presse. Rizvi’s whereabouts are unknown.

Officers from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Epstein and Guilloteau at their hotel in Karachi on the evening of December 16 and charged them with visa violations under Pakistan’s Foreigners Act for traveling to the southwestern city of Quetta without permission. FIA Deputy Director Abdul Malik told Reuters that the journalists only had visas to travel to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, and that they would also be charged with taking pictures of “prohibited areas.” Malik also said the journalists could receive three-year prison sentences for violating visa restrictions.

On December 17, a Pakistani court ordered Epstein and Guilloteau to be held in police custody for questioning until December 24. On December 20, a lower court rejected their lawyer’s petition for bail, and today another petition was files with the Sindh High Court. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters on December 18 that he expects the French journalists to be deported.

Rizvi, a reporter with 10 years’ experience working for local newspapers and international media outlets, has not been heard from since December 16. Pakistani press freedom groups speculate that Rzvi may be in police custody since he disappeared on the same day the French journalists were arrested, but authorities have made neither his whereabouts nor any possible charges against him public. Local journalists groups have strongly condemned the journalists’ arrests and have expressed grave concern about Rizvi’s possible detention. Rizvi is also the information secretary of Pakistan’s chapter of the press freedom group the South Asia Free Media Association.

“We are deeply troubled by the disappearance of Khawar Mehdi Rizvi and call on authorities to either confirm or deny that he is in their custody,” said CPJ Deputy Director Joel Simon. “We also urge the government to release our colleagues Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau.”