Two Pakistani journalists charged after months in custody

New York, June 22, 2006—Authorities filed criminal cases against Geo TV correspondent Mukesh Rupeta and freelance cameraman Sanjay Kumar today, more than three months after the two disappeared in Jacobabad in south Pakistan’s Sindh province. The two journalists were accused of filming a Pakistani air force base in violation of the Official Secrets Act, and they could be sentenced to a prison term of several years if convicted.

Rupeta and Kumar, who had grown long beards and appeared weak when they appeared today in court in Jacobabad, remain in the custody of police in Jacobabad and have been transferred to a medical ward, according to international news reports and Geo TV Managing Director Azhar Abbas. Geo TV is an Urdu-language station based in Dubai that broadcasts into Pakistan.

“It is outrageous that Pakistani authorities have held Mukesh Rupeta and Sanjay Kumar in an undisclosed location for months without clarifying the accusations against them,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

Rupeta, a correspondent for Geo TV for four years, and Kumar were initially detained on March 6. Geo TV first made a public statement about their detention on Wednesday after authorities refused to reveal details of Rupeta’s whereabouts or the accusations against him, Abbas said.

“Mukesh Rupeta has been in illegal detention since March,” Abbas told CPJ. “We began making inquiries immediately. He should have been produced earlier.”

The air base in Jacobabad was used by coalition forces during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, according to international news reports. It is unclear whether the base is still being used in that capacity. Precise details of the journalists’ detention were not immediately available.

The two journalists have also been accused of other crimes, including forging documents. Details of the other allegations will not be clear until authorities produce a charge sheet against the journalists, Abbas said.

Rupeta said that he had been mistreated in custody, according to international news reports.

“I can’t tell you what they have done to me. I thought I would be killed the way they treated me. I cannot tell you all from the lock-up,” Rupeta told Agence France-Presse, using the mobile phone of a visitor.

News of their detention came just days after the body of journalist Hayatullah Khan was found in the North Waziristan tribal region near the border of Afghanistan on June 16. Khan had disappeared in December after he reported that an al-Qaeda operative had been killed by a U.S. Hellfire missile, contradicting Pakistani government accounts. See CPJ’s June 21 alert: