Two French journalists returned home to France after being allowed to leave Pakistan and immediately launched an international support committee for their still detained Pakistani colleague Khawar Mehdi Rizvi.
Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau of the weekly L’Express told a press conference in Paris that they would not rest until the Pakistan authorities released their colleague.
"Three of us were involved in reporting. Now there are only two of us (...) None of us know what has happened to our colleague and friend Khawar Mehdi," said Epstein. "This is happening in a country that claims to apply the law of habeas corpus, by which no-one can be held for more than 48 hours without being charged. We are beside ourselves with worry. We don’t know where the man is, what is being done to him nor what he is accused of. It is completely unacceptable."
"If Pakistan is a country that respects the rule of law we call upon it to demonstrate that fact," he added.
Epstein gave details of the reporting which he said removed any blame from Rizvi for pictures found by police that they had claimed were faked. He said he had taken the images himself for the magazine’s Internet site. "Khawar Mehdi had nothing to do with these images, which were not faked, " he said. "At no time was our reporting intended to tarnish the image of Pakistan. We were only interested in showing the reality that is known to everyone: activity by armed Taliban groups at the Afghan border," he said.
The international support committee is made up of journalists from Pakistan, from the French media, France 2, TF1, Le Monde, Libération, L’Express, the US dailies, The New York Times and Chicago Tribune and Reporters Without Borders.
Rizvi is still being held in secret by Pakistani security services in Islamabad, where he is feared to be under considerable pressure. The security services denied before the Sindh High Court on 13 January that they were holding the journalist, despite successive statements by President Pervez Musharraf, from the interior minister and the spokesman for the foreign ministry, who all said he was detained for "investigation".
The three journalists were arrested on 16 December 2003 in Karachi, just after completing a report on Taliban groups at the border with Afghanistan.