SHC remits jail term of French journalists -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

SHC remits jail term of French journalists

KARACHI, Jan 12: The Sindh High Court upheld the conviction but remitted the jail term of two French journalists from six months each to that already served by them under the Foreigners Act on Monday.

The amount of fine was, however, doubled to Rs200,000 each, giving the convicts an option to pay up the fine and fly back home or, in default, serve imprisonment for another 15 days.

SHC remits French journalists’ term KARACHI, Jan 12: The Sindh High Court upheld the conviction but remitted the jail term of two French journalists from six months each to that already served by them under the Foreigners Act on Monday.

The amount of fine was, however, doubled to Rs200,000 each, giving the convicts an option to pay up the fine and fly back home or, in default, serve imprisonment for another 15 days.

According to the appellants’ counsel, Nafees A. Siddiqui and Raheel Nafees, the fine would be paid and the trial sessions court approached for release of their passports to enable them to return home.

Reporter Joel Marc Epstein and photographer Jean Paul Guilloteau of the Paris weekly L’Express were arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency on Dec 16 for visiting Quetta and Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas from Dec 9 to Dec 14 in violation of their visa conditions.

They were granted bail by the high court on Dec 24 in the sum of Rs100,000 and personal bonds. Subsequently, the high court set aside the sessions court’s order for deposit of their passports at the time of their release on bail on Dec 24, though the counsel could not apply for their return because of the paucity of time.

Additional sessions judge Nuzhat Ara Alvi read out the charge against the accused on Saturday and convicted them when they pleaded guilty. Recording her findings, the judge observed that the two journalists could very well have applied for a visa to visit Quetta as they did for going to Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. But they chose to violate the law. She sentenced them to six months’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs100,000 each or, in default, seven days simple imprisonment. The sentence was immediately suspended by the judge to enable the accused to move the high court in appeal.

As the appeals came up for hearing before Justice Syed Zawwar Hussain Jaffery on Monday, Attorney-General Makhdoom Ali Khan was on hand to represent the federation besides standing counsel Mahmood A. Rizvi.

The AG argued that no appeal was competent against a conviction based on a plea of guilt. He, however, supported advocate Nafees Siddiqui’s submission that “the appellants pleaded guilty to the charge, expressed remorse and threw themselves at the mercy of the court, praying for leniency and also explaining the reason behind the commission of the offence.”

Justice Jaffery observed that Section 412 of the criminal procedure code barred an appeal against a conviction based on a plea of guilt. The quantum of punishment could, however, be examined.

He noted that the appellants’ counsel had not pressed the allegations that the trial judge signed “some typed papers” before pronouncing the judgment and that “the admission was obtained by the FIA by promising the accused immediate return home.”

Judge Alvi had reproduced in her order the statement of the accused that they were pleading guilty voluntarily and without any pressure or temptation from any side.

Remitting the sentence, Justice Jaffery observed that the high court had held earlier that no useful purpose would be served by keeping the convicted foreigners in jail in such cases. He did not accept the plea for remission or against enhancement of the fine “in view of financial condition of the appellants”.

FO SPOKESMAN: In Islamabad, foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the journalists were expected to leave Pakistan later on Monday, adds AFP.

“They should be on their way to Paris some time during the day,” Mr Khan told reporters. “We are glad that this episode is behind us.” He, however, stressed that foreign journalists visiting Pakistan “must respect Pakistani laws.”

Mr Khan said the investigation was continuing against Khawar Mehdi Rizvi over his alleged involvement in filming of a “fake documentary” on Taliban’s presence in Pakistan.

RELEASE: The Frenchmen were delighted to have been released. “Today’s order is a good news for me and Paul. If everything goes well, we will be flying back home this evening or maybe by tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing friends and family,” Mr Epstein told AFP.

“As far as how the past four weeks have been since our arrest, I prefer to wait till I return back (to say).” He said, though, that “Pakistan is an exciting country and people are wonderful.”

He, however, expressed concern for the journalists’ Pakistani translator Khawar Rizvi, who was arrested with them and is being held at an undisclosed location. His case is likely to be heard on Jan 13.

The French pair’s lawyer, Nafees Siddiqui, said their release was a victory for justice. “French embassy officials and Siddiqui were completing formalities to enable the journalists to leave the country.”

DE VILLEPIN: French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin also hailed the release of the journalists. “We were in constant contact with Pakistani authorities … I raised the issue several times with my counterpart (Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri),” de Villepin told a news conference during a visit to Abu Dhabi.

The French minister thanked Pakistan for “the help extended while fully respecting the independence of the Pakistani judiciary.”

Source: Dawn
Date:1/13/2004