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Pakistan 27 April 2005

Khawar Mehdi cleared of "sedition" and "conspiracy"

Reporters Without Borders has welcomed the dropping of charges against freelance journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi by a special anti-terrorism court in Quetta, south-west Pakistan.

Mehdi, who fled his country at the end of 2004, was arrested in Karachi on 16 December 2003 while working with two French journalists from the weekly L’Express for whom he was accused of faking a report on Taliban armed groups on the Afghanistan border.

Military intelligence held him secretly for more than 40 days, during which time he was tortured, before he was charged on 25 January 2004 with ""sedition" and "conspiracy". He was released on bail from Quetta prison on 29 March 2004

The Quetta court dropped these charges for lack of evidence on 23 March 2005, the judges taking the view that the serious charges that carried a life sentence were unfounded.

"It has taken more than a year for the Pakistani justice system to realise that there was an obvious lack of evidence against Khawar Mehdi - a year too long in which he was secretly held, tortured, harassed and forced to flee his country", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The court did however uphold a one-year prison sentence imposed on Mehdi at the start of 2005 for failing to turn up for his trial, shortly after he went into exile for fear of receiving a harsh prison sentence.

Reporters Without Borders said it hoped that this unfair sentence, now clearly unjustified, would be quashed on appeal.

Two other men, Allah Noor and Abdul Shakir, who were arrested for having been in contact with the journalist, have also been released and acquitted of charges of aiding and abetting Mehdi.

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