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French journalists detained in Pakistan

Published on 18/12/2003

KARACHI, Dec 18 (AFP) - Lawyers Thursday applied for bail for two French journalists who were arrested for violating their press visa restrictions by visiting the southwest city of Quetta near the Afghan border.

“We have moved an application for release of the two French journalists,” the pair’s defence lawyer Nafees Siddiqui told AFP.

The bail application was lodged with a court in the southern city Karachi.The court on Wednesday instructed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to hold the pair for eight days for visiting Quetta without permission.

The bail application will be heard on Saturday, Siddiqui said.

The journalists – reporter Mark Epstein and photographer Jean Paul Guilloteau of L’Express magazine – arrived Pakistan on December 7 on journalist visas which only allowed them to visit Karachi, the capital Islamabad and eastern city Lahore.

An FIA official said the pair could face three years jail.

“They will be put on trial. The maximum penalty in this case is three years,” FIA deputy director Mohammad Malik said.

Reporters Without Borders called for their immediate release and raised concern at the unknown whereabouts of their Pakistani assistant, Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, who accompanied them to Quetta.

The organisation issued a statement criticising the imposition of visa and travel restrictions on foreign reporters as “obstructing investigative journalism”.

It urged the Pakistani government to review its rules regarding the provision of visas to foreign journalists.

Epstein and Guilloteau had not requested the necessary special permits for their trip to Quetta because their investigative reporting required discretion, Reporters Without Borders said.

Another person was also reportedly arrested for giving them an interview, the organisation said.

Police confiscated a computer and notebook from Epstein, and digital camera memory cards and videotapes from Guilloteau, according to the organisation.Epstein won Diplomatic Press Prize in 2001 for a report he and Rizvi produced on Pakistan’s western tribal areas.

 © AFP

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