Pakistani journalist acquitted of treason charges

New York, April 25, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the decision of an antiterrorism court in the southwestern city of Quetta to acquit Khawar Mehdi Rizvi and his two associates, Allah Noor and Abdullah Shakir, of treason. Judge Shaukat Ali Rakhshani acquitted the three on Saturday because of lack of evidence by the prosecution, the state-run Pakistan Newswire reported.

“We are relieved and gratified to see justice served for our colleague Khawar Mehdi Rizvi,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today.

The charges stemmed from Rizvi’s work as a fixer for two French journalists, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau. The three were arrested in their Karachi hotel on December 16, 2003 after traveling in the Pakistan-Afghan border area to research alleged Taliban activity. Officials denied holding Rizvi for almost five weeks after his arrest, claiming he must be “missing.” Epstein and Guilloteau were charged with visa violations, given six-month suspended sentences in January 2004, and allowed to return home.

Authorities continued to deny holding Rizvi until January 24, 2004, when he was finally brought before a Quetta court and formally charged with sedition, impersonation, and conspiracy that could have brought life imprisonment. Authorities alleged that Rizvi hired Noor and Shakir to impersonate members of the Taliban in video footage made by the French journalists. Pakistan’s state television, PTV, repeatedly aired footage it claimed that Rizvi had staged of Taliban fighters.

On March 29, 2004, Rizvi was finally granted bail. He was on trial in antiterrorism court until the end of last year, when he left the country. Authorities then revoked his bail, began harassing his family, and placed his name on a “no-exit” list at national airports, barring those listed from leaving the country, Rizvi said. Rizvi also told CPJ that he still faces one year in prison for failing to appear at a court hearing earlier in the year.

Noor and Shakir had remained in detention. The court in Quetta ordered their release on Saturday, according to the Pakistan Newswire.

Rizvi was featured in the fall edition of CPJ’s magazine, Dangerous Assignments.