The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the prolonged detention of freelance journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi. We call on your government to confirm which agency is holding Rizvi, to make any charges against him public, or to release him immediately.
Rizvi was last seen on December 16, 2003, the same day that officers from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested reporter Marc Epstein and photographer Jean-Paul Guilloteau, both from the French weekly L'Express, at their hotel in Karachi. The two French journalists were charged with visa violations under Pakistan's Foreigners Act for traveling to the southwestern city of Quetta without permission.
Although Epstein and Guilloteau only had visas to travel to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, they went to Quetta in December 2003 with Rizvi, who was working as their guide, to research a story about Taliban activity along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
On January 10, Epstein and Guilloteau pleaded guilty to the visa violations and each received a six-month prison sentence. On January 12, the two journalists' sentences were waived on appeal, and they were allowed to return to France.
Rizvi, a reporter with 10 years' experience working for local newspapers and international media outlets, is a citizen of Pakistan who traveled legally to Quetta.
Pakistani authorities have given conflicting accounts about holding Rizvi, but interviews and footage of the journalist in custody have been shown repeatedly on the state-owned television channel PTV. Rizvi's family filed a motion of habeas corpus on December 30, 2003, at the Sindh High Court in an attempt to free him, but in court, FIA officials denied arresting or detaining the journalist. During a second hearing on January 13, FIA Deputy Director Sarwar Khan again denied that Rizvi was in FIA custody. At a hearing today, after more denials, the court ordered the government to make Rizvi's whereabouts known within the next two days, according to local journalists.
In contrast with FIA officials, in an interview with The New York Times on January 11, Interior Ministry spokesman Abdur Rauf Chaudry confirmed that security agencies were holding Rizvi and that he was being interrogated. Chaudry also said that Rizvi would only be allowed to appear in court "when it is essential" and refused to say which security agencies were interrogating Rizvi because it would be "premature."
Pakistani officials, including your Excellency, have accused Epstein, Guilloteau, and Rizvi of fabricating their material about alleged Taliban activity in the Pakistani-Afghan border area. According to local news reports, you recently implied that Rizvi had damaged Pakistan's national interest for personal profit. The French journalists flatly deny these allegations and stand by their reporting, and Rizvi, like all professional journalists, is entitled to earn a salary for his work.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ asks Your Excellency to give Khawar Mehdi Rizvi his right to due process in a court of law. He should be allowed to appear in court with an attorney to defend him against any charges that may have been made against him, or he should be released immediately. It is in Pakistan's interest to support a free and open press where journalists are able to report safely about important issues. Rizvi's continued detention sends the wrong message to Pakistan's journalists and to the international community.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.