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Pakistan 24 December 2003

Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau released on bail
Khawar Mehdi Rizvi’s lawyer puts in a habeas corpus petition

Two French journalists from the weekly L’Express were freed after they were ordered released on bail by the High Court in Karachi. The lawyer for their Pakistani colleague Khawar Mehdi Rizvi made a habeas corpus request on behalf of his client who has spent more than a week in secret confinement.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) welcomed the decision on 24 December to bail French journalists Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau. But added that if there was no charge against them it was logical for Rizvi to be freed too, because as a Pakistani national he had every right to go to Quetta (for which foreigners need a special authorisation).

The press freedom organisation confirmed that Rizvi, a journalist and interpreter, was under a paid contract to the French weekly, which was not in any way a crime.

Sindh High Court judge, Zawar Hussain Jafferi, ordered the release of L’Express journalists Epstein and Guilloteau. The authorities did not oppose bail. The two journalists then went before another judge in Karachi who told them they must remain in Pakistan until 10 January to await their hearing. The two were released from the Karachi central prison later in the day.

Lawyer for Rizvi, Abid Saqi, put his habeas corpus petition before the Sindh High Court on the same day. The government has to produce the journalist in court before 30 or 31 December and give official reasons for his detention.

Pakistani television broadcast an interview with Rizvi on 23 December in which he said he had negotiated a salary of 2,000 euros for reporting in the Quetta region with the French journalists. People gave Interviews, also broadcast by PTV, in which they falsely claimed that the three journalists had set up a faked report.

Further testimonials to the professional qualities of Rizvi have now been sent to the Pakistani authorities. They came from senior correspondent New York Times Dexter Filkins, in a message to President Pervez Musharraf calling on him to release the Pakistani journalist.

Reporters Without Borders insists on pointing out that Rizvi is a freelance 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 coordinator of the Rushd Fondation, 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 underprivileged also led him to carry out a successful project at Peshawar, the Aziza Health Center.

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