Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today denounced the formal indictment of Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi by an anti-terrorism court in Quetta on 12 February for allegedly faking a report for two French magazine journalists about armed Taliban activities along the Afghan border.
It deplored the fact that no serious evidence had been presented to support the charges of "sedition" and "conspiracy" against him and said "trying a respected journalist before an anti-terrorism court" was "unworthy of a country that claims to respect press freedom." Two other Pakistani citizens, including a Taliban activist, were also charged by the court. Rizvi did not appear.
More than 800 journalists and media workers already have signed a worldwide petition drawn up by a committee campaigning for his release (www.freekhawar.org).
Rizvi’s lawyer, Abid Saqi, was allowed to visit him in prison in Quetta on 10 February and tell him about the international campaign to free him. Rizvi said his arrest and prosecution was a part of a drive to intimidate Pakistani and foreign journalists. The French reporters, arrested with him in Karachi on 16 December, worked for the French weekly magazine L’Express, were freed in mid-January.
Rizvi told his brother, who visited him earlier, that he was innocent and that the government had trumped up the charges to discredit the foreign media. The report he had done with the L’Express journalists was accurate, he said.
Rizvi, 44, is reported to be weak and with lung problems as a result of bad prison conditions and torture by military intelligence officials during his secret detention since mid-December. He was previously jailed for four years and a half in the 1980s while campaigning for democracy and against the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
The initial legal complaint (FIR) against Rizvi, which Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of, accused the French journalists of paying for a bogus report on armed Taliban groups and said he had engaged in a criminal conspiracy against the Pakistani government and was guilty of "sedition" and harming the country’s international image. He faces life imprisonment. Rizvi was originally charged on 25 January and police had been preparing the case since then.
Sign the petition at www.freekhawar.org