Two French journalists face court
KARACHI, Dec 17: Two French journalists, Joel Marc Epstein and Jeon Paul Gullateau, reporter and photographer of the French weekly L’Express, were produced on Wednesday before a judicial magistrate, who handed them over to the Passport Circle of the Federal Investigation Agency for interrogation.
The two were arrested late on Tuesday night for travelling to Quetta without permission. They claimed to have visited a group of Taliban in Kandahar where they also interviewed a local commander.
Talking to Dawn at the magistrate’s court, 43-year-old reporter, Marc Epstein, said he had gone to Afghanistan to do a story on the Taliban. “Pakistan was not going to appear in my article,” he said.
The Passport Circle arrested the pair as they did not have visa for Quetta. They were booked under Sections 3 (2) (a) (e), and 13/14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946. Passport Circle Deputy Director Mohammed Malik said the French journalists had visas only for Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore.
The official said Mr Epstein arrived here on Dec 7 and left for Islamabad by air on Dec 9. He said the 48-year-old photographer entered Pakistan via Wagah from India. The official said the two arrived in Quetta on Dec 9 and remained their till Dec 14.
The two said they were intercepted at a law enforcement agency picket and taken away with them a Pakistani companion to a police station for interrogation. They said one laptop computer, a notebook, a floppy disk, a video cassette, six digital photo camera disks, various papers and airline tickets were taken from them.
Mr Epstein said he was told by his “friends and colleagues” that it was possible to see the Taliban in the Afghan province of Kandhar via Quetta. “I felt that it would be interesting to meet some Taliban and their local commander,” he said.
The journalist, who has been in Pakistan for several times since 1992, said he had also covered elections in the country. Mr Epstein said he spent two days and one night with a group of Taliban in Kandahar. “Their local commander was from the third tier of the Taliban,” he said.
The journalists’ counsel, Nafees Siddiqui, said he would move an application for bail on Thursday. “They have not been involved in any criminal activity and have just been booked for travelling in a part of the country without permission,” he added.
The defence counsel said officials from the French Consulate had also visited the detained journalists. The magistrate ordered the Passport Circle to produce the foreigners before him on Dec 24.