2 journalists sentenced for visa violations

French reporters went to limited area of Pakistan

January 11, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KARACHI, Pakistan - A judge sentenced two French journalists to six months in prison yesterday for violating visa restrictions by traveling to an area near the border with Afghanistan without permission.

The journalists, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, who work for the French weekly L'Express, were arrested here Dec. 16 with a Pakistani colleague, Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, after completing a report on Taliban groups operating along the border with Afghanistan.

Rizvi has been held at an unidentified location since then. Abdur Rauf Chaudry, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said by telephone yesterday that Rizvi "is with the security agencies, and he is being interrogated."

Chaudry said that Rizvi would be produced before a court "when it is essential" and that it would be "premature" to say which agencies were interrogating him.

The French journalists' sentences were immediately suspended for one week, and they were allowed to return to their hotel, where they have been under house arrest. Their attorney entered an appeal that will be heard tomorrow. Chaudry said it was possible that the higher court would not press the case, "and they will be free to go. We are trying this."

Judge Nuzhat Ara Hakvi sentenced each of the two journalists to six months in prison and fined them $1,750 for traveling without permission to the Quetta region, in western Pakistan. Last year, the government began restricting foreigners' travel to the areas around Quetta and Peshawar.

State-run news organizations have said the journalists were planning a report on how Taliban rebels had set up training camps inside Pakistan near Quetta, which is about 30 miles from Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

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