New York, March 29, 2004— A judge granted bail to freelance journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi on March 27, in an anti-terrorism court in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. Rizvi’s lawyer, Habib Tahir, told local journalists that he would be released from jail today after posting a 200,000 rupees (US$3,500) bond payment.
Rizvi is still charged with sedition, conspiracy, and impersonation, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. His next hearing is scheduled for April 19.
The charges against Rizvi stem from his work as a fixer for two French journalists, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau from the newsweekly L’Express, in December 2003. Rizvi and the French journalists went to Quetta to research a story about Taliban activity along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
When the three journalists returned to Karachi on December 16, 2003, officers from the Federal Investigation Agency arrested Epstein and Guilloteau on visa violations. (Epstein and Guilloteau only had visas to travel to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.) Rizvi was also detained, but police and government authorities officially denied holding him until January 24 when he was formally charged.
Police have accused Rizvi of fabricating video footage of Taliban activity in Pakistan. Rizvi has said that he is innocent, and that he was tortured while in police custody.
The French journalists were found guilty of visa violations, but their six-month sentences were overturned on appeal and they were allowed to return to France on January 12.
“While we welcome Khawar Mehdi Rizvi’s release from prison on bail, we deplore the criminal charges being made against him,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “This case does not belong in court.”