New York, January 12, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the release of Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, a reporter and photographer, respectively, from the French news magazine L’Express, from house arrest in Karachi today. CPJ, however, remains gravely concerned about Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a local journalist working as the French journalists’ guide, who is still being held and interrogated by security agents, according to Abdur Rauf Chaudry, spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry.
Officers from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Epstein and Guilloteau at their hotel in Karachi on the evening of December 16, 2003, and charged them with visa violations under Pakistan’s Foreigners Act for traveling to the western Quetta region near the Afghan border without authorization. Although the two journalists only had visas to travel to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, they went to Quetta with Rizvi to research a story about the Taliban, according to local news reports. Pakistani authorities started limiting foreigners’ access to the western areas of Quetta and Peshawar last year, according to international news reports.
On January 10, Epstein and Guilloteau received six-month prison sentences for violating visa restrictions. The judge in the case, Nuzhat Ara Hakvi, suspended the sentence for one week and ordered the journalists to pay a fine of 200,000 rupees (US$3,500) each, according to their lawyer, Nafees Siddique. On appeal today, the two journalists’ sentences were waived, and they are expected to return to France imminently.
Rizvi, a reporter with 10 years’ experience working for local newspapers and international media outlets, was also arrested on December 16, 2003, but authorities denied holding him until January 10. On December 30, 2003, Rizvi’s family filed a motion of habeas corpus at the Sindh High Court in an attempt to free him, but at the hearing FIA officials denied arresting or detaining the journalist.
In an interview with The New York Times, however, 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.” A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, January 13, 2004.
“While we are relieved that our colleagues Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau have been released, we are very troubled that authorities denied holding Khawar Mehdi Rizvi for several weeks,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on authorities to release Rizvi immediately, and to make any charges against him public.”