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Pakistan Police Charge Journalist with 'Anti-State Activity' - 2004-01-26

Authorities in Pakistan have filed charges against a Pakistani journalist for aiding two French reporters who were convicted earlier of visiting a restricted area to videotape what they allege was a Taleban training camp. Authorities say the footage and the training camp were staged. The French journalists say that what they taped was real, and are calling for their colleague's acquittal.

Pakistani police have charged Khawar Mehdi with anti-state activity for allegedly staging bogus news footage of an Afghan militant camp inside Pakistan.

Pakistani media say a videotape taken from two French reporters working with Mr. Mehdi shows locals, allegedly paid to act as supporters of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime, pretending to train for cross-border attacks against Afghan targets.

The French reporters were arrested last month, and later convicted on charges of violating travel restrictions on their visas. They were fined and expelled from Pakistan.

Pakistan has come under international pressure amid reports that Taleban militants are using its territory as a safe haven for attacks on neighboring Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has staged a number of operations aimed at rooting out such militants.

In a recent interview with the U.S.-based CNN, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf described Mr. Mehdi as "unpatriotic" for having fabricated a story unflattering to the country.

But Marc Epstein, one of the two French reporters involved in the incident, maintains that the Taleban camp was real, and that the Pakistani government is trying to suppress reporting on the issue.

Mr. Epstein also told VOA that, according to an electronic satellite tracking device he had with him at the time, the camp he and Mr. Mehdi visited was actually on the Afghan side of the border.

"Rightly or wrongly, I was under the impression that we were on Afghan soil," he said. "This report had nothing to do with Pakistan."

Mr. Epstein says he is now lobbying for the authorities to drop the charges against Mr. Mehdi, and says the human rights group Amnesty International has also taken up the case.

In addition to Mr. Mehdi, police have also charged two of the men who allegedly pretended to be Taleban fighters on the videotape.