The International Press Institute (IPI) on Thursday expressed concerns over the arrest of Jang Geo Media Group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, saying that despite no charges filed against him, the Lahore High Court (LHC) denied him bail on April 7.
“The handling of Mr Rehman’s case by the [National Accountability Bureau] NAB is particularly alarming, as it has come at a time when independent media in Pakistan is under severe political and financial pressure,” wrote IPI’s Deputy Director Scott Griffen in a letter to PM Imran.
“The government has stopped publishing advertisements in several independent media outlets, including the Jang group, starving them of much-needed revenue,” he continued.
The IPI highlighted that recent developments show press freedom continues to be under severe threat in Pakistan and that it was worrying that the “continued persecution of the independent media is designed to convey a clear message – that any criticism of the government and the ruling party will have dire consequences for the survival of an independent press in Pakistan.”
“We urge you [PM Imran] to take immediate action to secure the release of Mr Rehman and to ensure that press freedom remains a cornerstone of Pakistan’s democracy,” the IPI said.
“Your excellency, when you became Prime Minister in August 2018, there was a glimmer of hope that independent media would be able to flourish in the country. The information minister announced soon after that the government had given the state-run media complete editorial control over content,” the letter lamented.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had also criticised NAB for arresting MSR. Urging the government to prove its commitment to press freedom, the commission said that “there remains a strong suspicion that such actions by NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically motivated.”
MSR arrested in fake case
NAB arrested MSR on March 12 in connection with property allegedly bought illegally from a government entity more than 34 years ago.
According to a Jang Group spokesperson, the property was in fact bought from a private party 34 years ago and all evidence of this was provided to NAB and legal requirements fulfilled, such as payment of duty and taxes.
According to the spokesperson, the appearance before NAB was in relation to a call-up notice for the verification of the complaint, yet an arrest was made. Islamabad High Court’s recent judgment against NAB’s violation of the country’s law and a violation of NAB’s own rules has been committed.
“In the past 18 months, NAB has sent our reporters, producers, and editors — directly and indirectly — over a dozen notices, threatening a shutdown of our channels (via PEMRA) due to our reporting and our programmes on NAB,” said the spokesperson.
“In its defense, NAB has in writing said it is a constitutionally protected institution that cannot be criticised. NAB has also, through several means, tried to persuade the group to step back, to stop stories, among other measures in its favor at the expense of the full truth.”
“The Group will not stop any reporters, producers or anchors from any story that is on merit and at the same time will include NAB’s version. In this case, NAB denies all allegations above and claims they are independently pursuing all cases and have not been asked to do by the democratically elected government,” the spokesperson added.
MSR’s arrest has been roundly condemned by many politicians, journalists, lawyers, and human rights bodies across the country.
Senior politicians from across the spectrum, journalists from major media outlets and other notables spoken out in favour of the veteran journalist, who, local and international watchdogs have said, is being victimised for speaking truth to power.
Celebrity barrister Amal Clooney’s law firm, Doughty Street Chambers, has also filed a complaint at the United Nations (UN) against the “politically-motivated and arbitrary arrest” of MSR.