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Pakistan 19 December 2003

Reporters Without Borders repeats its demand for the release of two journalists from L’Express and of journalist-interpreter Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, held in secret for three days

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has called on the Pakistani authorities to provide information about the Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi arrested with French journalists Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau three days ago in the southern city of Karachi after reporting in Afghanistan. They have been interrogated separately by the Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA).

"Holding a journalist in secret for three days is a violation of the law. All Mehdi Rizvi has done is work with a team of foreign journalist to carry out some reporting. This does not in any event constitute an offence that requires such a response," said the international press freedom organisation, in a statement sent to the federal interior minister, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat.

According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, Mehdi Rizvi was arrested on 16 December in Karachi by agents of the Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA), headed by Colonel Nizar. He is being held secretly in Karachi and reportedly regularly interrogated. His name does not appear in the case record (FIR) about the two French journalists although he was working with them. According to some sources, the investigators blame him for helping the crew from the French weekly newspaper L’Express to report in the Quetta region.

Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, respectively reporter and photographer on L’Express, are still being held at the offices of the FIA in Karachi. The French consul in Karachi and their lawyer, M. Siddiqi, are allowed to visit them every day. A judge is due to pronounce on 20 December on a request from their lawyer for them to be released on bail.

The authorities insist they have broken the law on "movement of foreigners" and by going to the Quetta region, without having (for obvious reasons, given the nature of their reporting) a special visa to go to the border region with Afghanistan. They did however have press visas for Pakistan.

On 19 December, the organisation Asia Presse, that groups French journalists specialised in Asia, put out a statement calling for the release of Marc Epstein, Jean-Paul Guilloteau and Khawar Mehdi Rizvi. The association wrote:

"Their fixer, Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, is a Pakistani journalist who is very much appreciated by French journalists, particularly by certain members of Asia Presse. He has moreover worked in Pakistan and, Afghanistan with TF1, France 2, Le Monde, Libération and Arte.

Asia Presse also stresses the professional capacities of all three journalists who were only working on an investigation into the situation in Pakistan without any intention to harm its government."

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