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Pakistan 18 December 2003

Call for the release of two French journalists who work for L’Express

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today called on the Pakistani authorities to release two French journalists, reporter Marc Epstein and photographer Jean-Paul Guilloteau, who were arrested yesterday in Karachi for violating regulations governing the "circulation of foreigners" by travelling to Quetta near the western border with Afghanistan.

The organisation also voiced concern that there was no word on the whereabouts of Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a Pakistani journalist who accompanied them to Quetta as their fixer.

Reporters Without Borders said the imposition of visa and travel restrictions on foreign reporters obstructed investigative journalism, and it urged the Pakistani government to review its rules regarding the provision of visas to the foreign news media.

Epstein and Guilloteau, who work for the French news weekly L’Express, were taken to the headquarters of the Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA) in the southern city of Karachi following their arrest by police. A French diplomat was allowed to visit them there.

They had press visas for Pakistan but, because their investigative reporting required discretion, they had not requested the necessary special permits for their trip to Quetta, in the frontier province of Baluchistan.

They were taken today before a Karachi judge who must reach a decision on their case within six days. They face up to three years in prison. Their lawyer plans to request their release on bail tomorrow. The immigration authorities have meanwhile said they want to interrogate their fixer without indicating whether he has also been arrested.

A few days before their arrest, Epstein and Guilloteau were briefly detained by police on the road between Quetta and Karachi. Another person was also reportedly arrested for giving them an interview. Police confiscated a computer and notebook from Epstein, and digital camera memory cards and videotapes from Guilloteau.

(JPEG) Epstein (picture) and Guilloteau have done a lot of reporting in Pakistan. In 2001, Epstein received the Diplomatic Press Prize for a report he and Rizvi produced on the situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

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