New York, June 8, 2004—Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a freelance Pakistani journalist, went on trial today in an anti-terrorism court in the southwestern city of Quetta on charges of sedition, conspiracy, and impersonation, according to the journalist. The charges against him carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Rizvi told CPJ that several witnesses for the prosecution were presented for questioning in court today. He said the next hearing in the case is scheduled for June 15. Judge Hashim Kakar is presiding over the trial.
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 had visas to travel only 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. He was released on bail on March 29.
Another local journalist working with a foreign correspondent was detained on April 21. Newsweek stringer Sami Yousafzai, an Afghan national, was arrested at a military checkpoint near the town of Bannu in North West Frontier Province with his driver, Mohamed Salim, and an American freelance journalist, Eliza Griswold. Griswold was questioned and released after several hours, but Yousafzai and Salim were detained until June 2, when they were released without charge.