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Pakistan Releases French Journalists - 2004-01-12

Pakistan has released two French journalists arrested earlier for traveling to the Afghan border without permission.

A provincial high court reduced six-month prison sentences to seven days for reporters Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau. The court, however, doubled their fine to more than $3,500 each. Once the fines are paid, they can leave Pakistan.

Khawar Mehdi, a Pakistani journalist who aided the two men, is still in custody, awaiting charges. The French reporters were charged with visiting the city of Quetta in violation of their visas.

Vincent Brossel, with the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, says the arrests were meant to stop foreign reports from that area of Pakistan. "They don't want to see foreign journalists working with real investigative strategies in this part of the world," he says.

The reporters visited the area to film what was said to be a secret camp used by Afghan militants hiding in Pakistan. Allegations later surfaced, however, that the camp was a fake, set up to fool the journalists.