ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to Editor-in-Chief of Jang Group of Newspapers Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who has been in captivity for around eight months, in a reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) about a 34-year-old matter of land purchase.
Headed by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Qazi Amin Ahmed, the SC bench had taken up a post-arrest bail plea of the media tycoon against the rejection of the same plea by the Lahore High Court on July 8.
The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), while hailing the development, said “finally justice has prevailed”.
Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari termed it “victory of free media”.
The Jang Group’s editor-in-chief was arrested on March 12 by NAB at its Lahore office where he had been called to submit answers to the questionnaire attached with a call-up notice.
APNS, CPNE, Bilawal hail development
As the court order was not released till late evening hours, it is not clear whether the Supreme Court in its bail order also directed Mr Rahman to furnish surety bond as Additional Prosecutor General (NAB) Haider Ali Khan had requested the bench to mention in its order furnishing of Rs100 million surety bonds in addition to submission of passport. He contended that persons accused in NAB cases usually went at large soon after being released on bail.
At this, Justice Qazi Amin Ahmed recalled that in one of the cases, the court had ordered an accused person to furnish Rs100m surety bonds.
Earlier, during the hearing, Advocate Amjad Pervez informed the bench that Mr Rahman had neither caused any loss to the government nor had the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) ever lodged any complaint against him.
The counsel explained that his client was facing the allegations of acquiring an additional four-kanal-and-12-marla land in Lahore in 1986 without paying its market value. The plot was allotted in H-block of Lahore’s Jauhar Town Phase-II on a general power of attorney on behalf of Hidayat Ali and Hikmat Ali on the directives of then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif in violation of the relevant laws/rules. He explained that his client had made additional payment in 1987 in accordance with the relevant laws of that time.
When Justice Afridi inquired from the prosecutor whether the documents presented by the accused were true or false, the NAB prosecutor admitted that the documents were true. The prosecutor also could not offer any plausible justification when asked if references were also filed against other accused.
In his petition, Mr Rahman pleaded that the reopening of a 34-year-old matter relating to exemption of plots with respect to which neither the LDA nor any other authority or owner of the land had raised any grievance inevitably involved consideration extraneous to law.
The petition said the factum of ingrained mala fides involved in the initiation and continuance of proceedings against the petitioner under the NAO 1999 in the three-decade-old matter of exemption of land could be well gauged by the manner in which the NAB chairman at Islamabad and the bureau officials at Lahore acted at tandem with each other on March 12 to bring about his arrest. It alleged that each and every allegation forming the basis of grounds of arrest was maliciously false and concocted and the arrest of the petitioner had been procured by NAB with ulterior motives and for reasons extraneous to law.
Pursuant to the mala fide arrest of the petitioner on March 12, he was produced before an accountability court in Lahore the following day and remanded to physical custody of NAB from time to time for a total period of 45 days, and ultimately to judicial custody vide order April 28, the petition contended.
During the pendency of the writ petition filed by Mr Rahman, the NAB chairman filed a reference against the petitioner and three co-accused — Nawaz Sharif, who was the chief minister of Punjab/LDA chairman in the year 1986; then LDA DG Hamayon Faiz Rasool; and then LDA director for Land Development Mian Bashir Ahmad.
The petition contended that the high court had erred in law by failing to see that the entire series of actions of the respondents demonstrated that they were led by ulterior motives of intimidating and demoralizing the petitioner and thus making him an “example for the entire media industry to keep others in line”, instead of a bona fide exercise of carefully examining a complaint, seeking answers, then deciding to convert it into inquiry and so on.
Soon after the bail order, the PPP chairman, in a phone conversation with Mr Rahman’s son Mir Ibrahim, said his release on bail was in fact a victory of free media. Mr Bhutto-Zardari also expressed the hope that attempts to gag the media would fail.
In a statement, the APNS congratulated the Jang Group editor-in-chief on being released on bail after eight months.
APNS president Hameed Haroon and secretary general Sarmad Ali stated: “Finally justice has prevailed and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman has been granted bail by the Supreme Court. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was incarcerated for over eight months by NAB on trumped up charges of a 34-year-old private property case. His arrest and prolonged imprisonment were an attempt to muzzle the independence of media and silence the whistle blowers.
“It is appreciable that the media and human rights organizations strongly protested on the NAB action and finally the Supreme Court granted bail to him. The APNS is confident that the freedom of press will be safeguarded and any attempt to encroach upon independence of media will be resisted in future as well.”
Meanwhile, the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) also welcomed the bail order.
In a statement, CPNE president Arif Nizami said that the arrest of journalists and editors on baseless allegations was a condemnable act.