France in contact with Pakistan over arrested journalists
PARIS (December 22 2003): France said on Sunday it was in contact with authorities in Pakistan to try to secure the release of two French journalists being held in custody for violating their visa conditions.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said there had been “numerous contacts” over the fate of reporter Mark Epstein and photographer Jean Paul Guilloteau of the weekly L’Express magazine, but declined to give further details.
A Pakistani court on Saturday rejected bail requests by the two journalists who were arrested on December 16 for violating their press visa restrictions by visiting the south-west city of Quetta near the Afghan border.
Their lawyer Nafees Siddiqui said he planned to file a high court appeal over the bail decision on Monday.
The journalists, who appeared in court handcuffed, told the judge that they went to Quetta, but they did not go to Afghanistan, Siddiqui said.
Prosecutor Mumtazul Hasan said the pair had violated specific permission given to them, saying they had gone to Afghanistan and then returned illegally to Pakistan.
Siddiqui argued that his clients were professional journalists and they had valid visas for Pakistan, but admitted that they had no permission to go to Quetta.
An official of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) which deals with immigration matters said last week the pair would be put on trial and could face three years jail.
However, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Thursday he expected the two journalists, who were arrested in Karachi, would be deported.
The media rights group Reporters Without Borders has called for their immediate release and raised concerns over the whereabouts of their Pakistani assistant, Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, who has been missing since their arrest.
Another person was also reportedly arrested for giving them an interview, the organisation said.
Under the terms of their journalists’ visas on which they entered Pakistan on December 7, they were not permitted to travel outside of the capital Islamabad or the cities of Karachi and Lahore.
Reporters Without Borders said the pair had not requested additional permits for their trip to Quetta because their investigative reporting required discretion.
Epstein won the Diplomatic Press Prize in 2001 for a report he and Rizvi produced on Pakistan’s western tribal areas.
Source: Business Recorder