French journalists working for L’Express, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau and their Pakistani colleague, journalist/interpreter Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, have begun a second week of detention in Karachi. The Pakistani journalist is still being held in secret by the security forces. French journalists have rallied to the support of Rizvi after a fabricated report was broadcast on government television PTV.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) called on the Pakistani government to respect its commitments to press freedom and to release the three journalists. The international press freedom organisation has expressed its amazement at the outbursts of some Pakistani journalists and editorialists who have questioned the integrity of the three journalists. Reporters Without Borders can only urge the Pakistani press to investigate this case in an independent manner and to defend press freedom for Pakistani and foreign journalists. It now looks as if the authorities are holding Rizvi without charge to prevent him from giving his version of the events.
Pakistani television on December 20 and 21 broadcast a report alleging that Rizvi had paid Afghan stooges to pose as Taliban under training. The journalist is seen in the report but is not given any chance to defend himself. According to several sources, the PTV report clumsily cuts in footage shot by the journalists with reconstructions and false testimonies.
The authorities arranged a press trip to Quetta in the west of the country before 20 December to organise the defamatory campaign against the three journalists.
On the other hand, several newspapers, leading journalists and journalists’ organisations have called for the release of the three. The French diplomatic press association and Asia Presse, that groups French journalists who are Asia specialists, have all asked for the experienced professionals to be freed. Top journalists on the French dailies Le Monde and Libération and TV channels TF1 and France 2 have testified to the professional qualities of Rizvi before the Pakistani authorities.
Reporters Without Borders insists on pointing out that Rizvi is an independent journalist who works with a number of foreign media, particularly French. He is known for having refused to have anything to do with the sensationalism of some western media. In an interview with the French magazine Médias, he said: "I turn down some proposals and money has nothing to do with it." Moreover Rizvi, one of the co-ordinators of the Journalists Resource Center, recently organised a training seminar in Islamabad for members of the Tribal Union of Journalists with the FATA Development Network. His work with Afghanistan’s poor people also led him to carry out a successful project at Peshawar, the Aziza Health Center.
For their part, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau held a brief hunger strike to protest against their treatment. In a letter made public by their lawyer, the journalists said they had "only been doing their job" and did not understand why they were being "treated like criminals". They are being held in a special wing of Karachi central prison where their lawyer and French diplomats can visit them regularly.
The lawyer for Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, Nafees Siddiqi, appealed to the Sind High Court on 22 December against the decision to refuse them bail. The verdict has not yet been given. The journalists are accused of violating the 1946 Foreigners Act, that lays down a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The authorities accuse them of travelling through the Quetta region without special permission.