Officers from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Epstein and Guilloteau, a reporter and a photographer, respectively, for the French newsmagazine L’Express, at their hotel in Karachi and charged them with visa violations under Pakistan’s Foreigners Act for traveling to the southwestern city of Quetta without permission. The French journalists went there in December 2003 with Rizvi, a freelance journalist who was working as their guide, to research a story about Taliban activity in the western area of Pakistan that borders the country of Afghanistan.
Epstein and Guilloteau only had visas to travel to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, and authorities threatened that they would also be charged with taking pictures of “prohibited areas.” Pakistan’s government began limiting foreigners’ access to the western areas of Quetta and Peshawar in 2002, after skirmishes started along the Afghan border, according to international news reports.
The French journalists were released from Karachi Central Prison on December 24, but their passports were confiscated, and they remained under house arrest at year’s end while awaiting a verdict in their case.
On January 10, 2004, Epstein and Guilloteau pleaded guilty to the charges of visa violations and received six-month prison sentences. 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 on January 12, 2004, the two journalists’ sentences were waived, and they were allowed to return to France.
Pakistani authorities initially denied that they were holding Rizvi, a reporter with 10 years’ experience working for local newspapers and international media outlets, but local journalists and press freedom groups were confident that Rizvi was in government custody because he disappeared on the same day the French journalists were arrested. Footage and interviews of the journalist in custody were shown several times on the state-owned channel PTV.
Rizvi’s family filed a motion of habeas corpus on December 30, 2003, at the Sindh High Court in an attempt to free him, but in court FIA officials denied arresting or detaining the journalist.
In an interview with The New York Times on January 11, 2004, 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.”