It is a matter of shame that even after 73 years of independence our governments have not realized and understood the importance of freedom of expression. We have had a long history of demonstrations and movements against the highhandedness of the various governments that tried to suppress the media – both electronic and print. Today again journalists are out to condemn the illegal, malicious and unlawful arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, editor-in-chief of Jang/Geo – the largest media group in Pakistan. Since the arrest, there have been protest demonstrations in almost all big cities including Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore. All professional associations and unions of journalists have unanimously condemned the onslaught waged by NAB and the present government against free media houses that dare to show the mirror to the rulers.
While the IHC will be hearing a case against the disappearance of the Geo News channel or its delegation to the last numbers on screens, apparently following government orders to cable operators, the Lahore High Court has heard a challenge to the physical remand of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. In response, NAB has said that the case is in the inquiry stage, and was told by the court that in such a situation, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should have been questioned and his responses recorded.
A free media is not only the backbone of a civilized society it also serves – as brilliantly put by I A Rehman – as the lungs of society that allow it to breathe freely. And this is not the question of just one media group; it is essentially a battle of media freedom in Pakistan that must be waged and won at all costs. We have kept the flag of free expression fluttering while facing the winds of authoritarianism. It is a matter of courage and solidarity that a majority of democratic politicians, journalists, and media bodies have condemned the arrest. Even before the arrest, 17 international media watchdog bodies had highlighted the reduction in space for free expression in Pakistan. Many of these bodies, including the CPJ and the RSF, have spoken again condemning the arrest. As have members from the US and UK governments. They are right in pointing out that such acts by NAB will not only weaken democracy in the country but will also diminish Pakistan’s standing in the world community. We suggest that both NAB and the current government have a critical look at how they look at journalism. To us, journalism will always mean speaking truth to power, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be.