LAHORE/KARACHI: Senior journalists, civil society members, office-bearers of media unions and trade union bodies have demanded immediate release of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
They warned that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government could not continue its dictatorial policies to suppress the freedom of expression and force economic murder of the media workers for long.
They were speaking at a protest camp of Geo, Jang and The News employees, being organised on the call of Joint Action Committee and the Jang Employees Union, outside the Jang offices for the 12th consecutive day on Sunday for the release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
Those who participated in the protest camp and visited the camp to express solidarity with the Jang group employees included Shaheen Qureshi, Group Editor Jang Group, civil society leader Abdullah Malik Advocate, socialist leader Comrade Zawwar Hussain Bukhari, Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) President Qamar Bhatti, Joint Secretary Nasrullah Malik, senior journalist Ms Tamseela Chishti, Zaheer Anjum, news editor Pakistan Times, Adnan Malik, Khizr Hayat Gondal, office-bearers of Jang Employees Union and others.
Abdullah Malik said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was the first victim while other owners of the media houses would be the next targets. He said the media would become an easy target for the ruling elite and establishment when majority of top-ranking media houses would either be closed down or cut to size with a little number of employees left. He said the media owners must realise that unless they empower their workers and professional journalists, their own strength would be seriously curtailed, and they would become an easy prey for the establishment and ruling elite, adding that the case of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should serve as an eye-opener for all media owners.
Qamar Zaman Bhatti said that the PUJ had always stood by the media freedom as it believed that no restriction on the media could be accepted. He said rather than putting journalists into jails, the government should focus on controlling the coronavirus pandemic. “Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should be released immediately as his arrest was a move to usurp the media freedom. Already results were coming out and the arrest was leading towards weakening of the media itself after gagging of freedom of expression, which was evident from the closure of noted news channels recently,” he said.
He said journalist associations have always struggled for justice for the journalist community and will continue doing so in future, he added. “When journalists wage the struggle for freedom of expression, they always succeed and many dictators in the past had to bite the dust,” he warned.
He said the media could not work for the truth without freedom, as it plays the role of a watchdog for society and the country. He noted that such a victimisation had been committed in the past by dictators like Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq, Gen Pervez Musharraf, and now the media workers were being victimised by Imran Khan, who had also been selected to suppress the media freedom. He said the entire world knew the truth that Imran Khan had been selected and was now proving that he was not a representative of masses and democracy.
Comrade Zawwar Hussain said the fake and fabricated case against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should be withdrawn and he should be released. He warned that if Mir Shakil was not released, protests would expand, creating more problems for the government. He said the government, instead of tackling the coronavirus and providing relief to the starving people under lockdown, was busy in suppressing the voice of media and victimising the media houses owners.
Shaheen Qureshi said that the struggle was not only for the release of Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman but also for the freedom of media in future. He warned that the campaign would continue against the puppet rulers even after the release of the Editor-in-Chief as it was a conspiracy against journalists and their freedom of expression,” he said.
He demanded the government release the withheld Rs6 billion arrears of the media houses immediately so that the media workers could be paid their salaries and dues in the current difficult times. He said the government had admitted that Rs3 billion were payable to the media houses, but it was not ready to release that amount despite making promises.
He said the Jang Group always reported the truth. He said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was aimed at suppressing the independent media. The government was using all pressure tactics to subdue the press and the Jang Media Group was bearing the brunt being the largest media house in the country.
Tamseela Chishti said the arrest of Mir Shakil was not only a conspiracy against Geo and Jang Group but also the first step to silence all media voices. She said the journalists, by staging hunger strikes, had proved that they would win the battle this time also like in the past when they achieved successes against dictators. She said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was the voice of suppressed people and voice of democracy. She said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was being punished for writing and reporting the truth, but the rulers would not be able to pressure him as he represented the free media.
Meanwhile, the protest camp on the call of the Joint Action Committee of workers of Geo and Jang Group against the unlawful and unjust arrest of the group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman continued in Karachi on Sunday.
Representatives of various political parties and leaders of medical and municipal organisations on Sunday also visited the protest camp set up outside the Jang Building on the I.I. Chundrigar Road to show their solidarity with the protest and to demand the release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
Pakistan People’s Party’s former MNA and a close aide of the party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Syed Khadim Hussain Shah, visited the protest camp. The Pakistan Medical Association’s delegation, headed by secretary-general Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, and comprising PMA Karachi leader Dr. Sharif Hashmani, former secretary-general Mirza Ali Azhar, treasurer Qazi Wasiq and editor of a health magazine, Dr. Jaipal Chhabria, also visited the camp to condemn the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
Zulfiqar Shah and Shakeel Ahmed, a leader of Karachi Municipal Corporation Sajjan Union, also visited the protest camp.
The News Employees Union’s General Secretary Dara Zafar, All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation’s Secretary-General Shakil Yamin Kanga, and Secretary Information Fawad Mehmood, Javed Press Union’s General Secretary Rana Yusuf and Saeed Mohiuddin Pasha in their speeches said that the case against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was bogus and he was being victimized for publishing the truth.
Shah, a former MNA, said that the illegal arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman shows the rulers do not want the citizens to be informed about the truth. “I did not see such a case in my life,” he said. He said that the current unjust and tyrant rulers will always be remembered infamously.”
The PMA leader, Dr Sajjad, said that the Jang Group and Geo are the symbols of truth and the government wanted to suppress the truth by gagging the media through harassment and financial pressure.
The Jang-Geo Group has been targeted for its independent and fair journalism and the government took into custody its editor-in-chief for not bowing under pressure, he said. “First, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman has been arrested and cases have been registered against him. It is completely unjust and unfair,” said Sajjad.
He said that the entire world has been fighting the coronavirus pandemic while the government in Pakistan has been jailing journalists without any trials. He assured that the civil society and professional bodies are with the journalist community to resist these designs with unity.
Other speakers said that the media is facing a serious financial crisis and the media is under chains. There will be no compromise on the freedom of the media and it will continue the struggle against its coercion and will not be a part of tactics to hide the truth from the people, they vowed.
Newspaper: The News