ISLAMABAD/ LONDON: The US Department of State said it was concerned over the arrest of Jang/Geo Media Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who was detained by the NAB in relation to a property he had purchased from a private party 34 years ago.
In a statement, Alice G Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), said the US foreign ministry has “noted with concern the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
“Press freedom, due process, and the rule of law are pillars of every democracy,” Wells added.
The British government and members of British Parliament have condemned the illegal arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Jang and Geo’s Editor-in-Chief, by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in a 34 years old fake case and shut down of Geo across Pakistan by Pakistani Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA).
The British government and members of House of Commons and House of Commons called on Pakistani authorities to stop illegal actions against the country’s largest independent media house and let Geo news operate without interference from the government.
Lord Tariq Ahmed, UK Minister of State for Foreign Office and Department of International Development (DFID) for South Asian, Commonwealth and United Nations Lord Tariq, said: Very concerned by reports of the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the owner of Jang Media Group in Pakistan. The freedom to hold and express views without censorship, intimidation or unnecessary restriction is a cornerstone of democracy.”
Lord Nazir Ahmed termed Mir Shakil’s arrest as “illegal” and said NAB was involved in using the draconian tactics used by the authorities in Soviet Union. He said Mir Shakil’s case is unique and vindictive because he was arrested at the investigative stage in an alleged white collar crime dating back nearly four decades in which no illegality or wrongdoing has been proven against him at any forum.
Lord Nazir said: “This means that either you are weak or you running a vendetta against him and that’s why you arrest him. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should be released immediately and NAB should be reformed. NAB has abused its powers, locked up professors and businessmen and politicians. People are arrested for months, detained for months and no evidence is produced. It doesn’t happen like this anywhere in the world. Pakistan government has to be careful. Media should remain free. The tampering of Geo numbers on cable and shutting down in some parts is unfair. Pakistan will progress when media is free.”
Lord Qurban Hussain said that he stood for human rights in Pakistan. “I want human rights in Pakistan. Everyone should get justice and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should get justice too.”
Afzal Khan MP said that the arrest of Mir Shakil and shutting down of Geo News was a serious concern. He paid tribute to services of Jang and Geo for Pakistan and the democratic process. He said media is needed for accountability and it was right of media to ask tough questions. He said media should be given free environment to operate and should not be targeted by the government authorities.
Naz Shah MP said she was aware that Editor-in-Chief of Jang and Geo has been arrested and Geo channel has been shut down in several parts of the country. She said that a healthy media is needed for the progress of a healthy country. She called on the government to address concerns of the media. “A strong press is a guarantor of democracy and liberties and without accountability and freedom of the press there is no development. Free media is crucial for democracy, especially in countries like Pakistan.”
Yasmeen Qureshi MP, who chairs all Pakistan Parliamentary Group on Pakistan, expressed alarm at the shutting down of Geo News on instructions of Pemra. She said Geo is the oldest established newspaper of Pakistan. “Millions of people watch Geo in UK, Pakistan and elsewhere. The arrest of the Chief Executive Officer of the paper, I hope, will not impact the opportunity of the people to watch Geo and read Jang newspaper.”
Britain’s first turban-wearing Sikh MP Tan Dhesi, who represents thousands of Pakistani and Kashmiri voters from Slough and faced campaign against him by BJP and RSS in last general elections, said the arrest of Mir Shakil was alarming and called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to restore Geo’s transmissions. He said Geo News is the voice of Kashmiris and Pakistanis and always raised the issue of occupied Kashmir and other issues close to the heart of Pakistani and Kashmiri community. He said Geo has been providing a valuable service to the community and remains the best platform for the community.
The Sikh MP said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest in 34 years old case is unacceptable. He said he will raise the issue with Britain’s Foreign Secretary and in Parliament to take it up with Pakistani government.”
Ziauddin Yousufzai said he felt saddened at the arrest of Mir Shakiln. “I believe that his arrest is based on political revenge and its malafide. Mr Rahman has a huge contribution in Pakistan’s media. It’s unfortunate that he is being kept in illegal custody. Free media is the soul of democracy and without free media there is no difference between dictatorship and democracy. Its clear Shakil-ur-Rahman has been arrested for political revenge.”
Muhammad Yasin MP said that Mr Rahman’s arrest at the verification stage was unbelievable and doesn’t set a good precedent.
He said: “Mr Rahman has the full right to defend himself. I believe that his arrest without any proof is not a good step and will not prove to be a wise decision. He deserves justice and I hope he will get justice from the courts.”
Elaina Cohen, Parliamentary Secretary of Khalid Mehmood MP who has been to Pakistan on several occasion, said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is a power grab and blatant attack on Pakistani media freedom. She said Mr Rahman’s arrest and shut down of Geo would damage Pakistan in eyes of the world.
Islamabad News Desk adds: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Pakistani authorities should release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman from custody.
“The space for dissent in Pakistan is shrinking fast, and anyone who criticises government actions can become a target,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Detaining Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is just the latest case of harassment against Pakistan’s beleaguered media.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stated that “pre-trial detention should be an exception and as short as possible.” Pre-trial detention should not be used as a form of punishment.
BBC in its report said the arrest is being seen by journalists and human rights activists as more evidence that free media and political dissent are being silenced in Pakistan.
“Irrespective of the merits of the case, many doubt NAB is carrying out its duties honestly. It often takes action against those who question government policies. The arrest has triggered widespread criticism from journalists’ bodies, rights groups and the political opposition,” the report said.
A veteran journalist in Lahore was quoted as saying by BBC that “there’s no doubt it’s a selective move because evidence of illegal financial activities by owners of the so-called ‘friendly’ media have also been cropping up from time to time but NAB doesn’t seem to be bothered”.
The New York Times reported that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is one of Pakistan’s most influential media figures, and his company, the Jang Media Group, has run afoul of successive governments. But, it reported, the current prime minister, Imran Khan, has shown particular impatience with its coverage.
It reported that Imran Khan has been particularly rankled by Jang’s coverage of the 2018 election, which elevated him to power, and has accused the media company of being an ally of Mr. Sharif.
The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) has called for the immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
It said the arrest appears to be linked to investigations undertaken by Geo TV into the operation of the NAB during the past 18 months.
The AIB will be raising the arrest and the wider pressure being exerted on Geo TV within the Media Freedom Coalition, an international ministerial-level group of 36 nations, at its Advisory Network meeting scheduled for the week of 16 March. In addition, the AIB is making representations to the Pakistan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.