Detained Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi told journalists he was totally innocent of the charges against him as he was led away on 30 January from a court in Quetta which had just ordered that he should remain in custody so that the authorities can purse their investigation.
The police now have another 14 days before turning Rizvi over to the judicial authorities. Rizvi has been tortured while in detention and according to his brother, he is under considerable pressure, both physical and psychological.
"I am totally innocent... it looks from this incident that an effort is being made to hamper the credibility of the international media," Rizvi said.
According to the criminal investigations department of the Quetta police, Rizvi is accused of taking money from two reporters with the French weekly L’Express, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, to fabricate a report about a Taliban commander and a Taliban training camp near the Afghan border.
He is charged with conspiracy, sedition, "harming Pakistan’s international reputation," and "promoting hatred between Pakistan and a neighbouring country and the international community, and between Islam and other religions." Two taliban, Syed Allah Noor and Abdullah Shakir, are facing the same charges. The charge sheet claims that evidence (video cassettes) were transmitted by a "secret agency."
The US ambassador to Islamabad has voiced concern to the Pakistani government about the treatment Rizvi is being given.
Journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi at risk of life sentence for "sedition" and "conspiracy"
The Pakistani authorities have finally "deigned to respect the law" by charging journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi after secretly detaining him for more than 40 days, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) said.
Baluchistan provincial police chief Shoaib Suddle said on 25 January that Rizvi, who was working for the French weekly L’Express, was being held in Quetta and had been charged with "sedition" and "conspiracy" under Article 124-A of the criminal code.
Stressing the absence of material evidence to support the charges, the international press freedom organisation "deplored the cynicism with which the authorities apply double-standards", in that two French journalists with whom he worked were, on appeal, sentenced only to a fine.
The authorities accuse Rizvi of setting up a fake report for the French journalists on the activities of armed Taliban groups at the Afghan border.
The journalists Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau have previously said that videotapes found by the security services contained footage taken by Epstein and intended for the magazine’s Internet site.
The two have repeated that they were indeed in contact with an armed Taliban group, whose leader Abdullah Shakir was living in Rawalpindi. The three journalists had never intended at any time to tarnish Pakistan’s image, they stressed.
The Baluchistan police chief added that two other men, Allah Noor and Abdullah Shakir, were also being held and charged with "sedition".
Rizvi’s lawyer, Abid Saqi, plans to enter a bail application on 29 January.
The Khawar Mehdi international support committee is made up of Pakistani journalists as well as those from French media, France 2, TF1, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Express, from US dailies The New York Times and Chicago Tribune and Reporters Without Borders.
The three journalists were arrested in Karachi on 16 December 2003.
More than 14 years ago, Reporters Without Borders began a "sponsorship" programme calling on the international media to "adopt" a jailed journalist. As a result, 200 news operations and clubs worldwide support a colleague and regularly call on the relevant authorities for their release. They also give regular coverage to their journalist’s plight so that they are not forgotten.
Khawar Mehdi Rizvi is sponsored by: Radio Classique.