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March 13, 2020

Media freedom attacked: Jang/Geo editor-in-chief arrested

Top Story

March 13, 2020

LAHORE: The NAB has arrested Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a case related to a property bought allegedly illegally from a government entity more than 34 years ago. The property, in fact, had been bought from a private party, and all evidence, including legal requirements like duty and taxes, to this effect was provided to the NAB. He had gone on Thursday on a call-up notice for verification of the complaint, but the arrest was made. The arrest was in violation of Islamabad High Court's recent judgment against the NAB's violation of the country's law and it was against NAB's own rules.

The Jang Group spokesperson said: “In the past 18 months, the NAB sent our reporters, producers and editors, directly and indirectly, over a dozen notices, threatening shutdown of our channels (via PEMRA) due to the Jang/Geo Group’s reporting and its programmes about the NAB. In its defence, the NAB has in writing said that it is a constitutionally-protected institution that can’t be criticized.”

The spokesperson said the NAB also has through several means tried to persuade the Jang/Geo Group to go easy on the institution, stop stories and do others in its favour at the expense of the full truth. He said the Jang/Geo Group will not stop any reporters, producers or anchors from any story that is based on merit and at the same time will include the NAB version.

In this case, the NAB denies all allegations and claims they are independently pursuing all cases and have not been asked to do so by the democratically-elected government.

All the major allegations — whether 34-years-old or recent — against the Jang/Geo Group have been proven false in courts of law — the most prestigious UK court or honourable Pakistani courts. The charges include taking illegal funds from foreign entities, taking funds for political patronage, treason, blasphemy and tax-related questions, etc. The Jang/Geo Group’s newspapers, channels have been shut down, its reporters, editors and anchors shot at, killed, banned, boycotted, but the Jang/Geo Group is still standing and its efforts to pursue the truth continue.

The NAB complainant is a person working for a fake degree company who has a media entity that has been internationally exposed time and again. The Jang/Geo Group has already won a defamation case against this complainant in a previous case and is engaged in several other criminal defamation cases for which it is being targetted. By Almighty's Grace, the Jang/Geo Group will win these cases also.

NAB Lahore’s Deputy Director Coordination Binish Nauman on March 10 had served a call-up notice on Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, directing him to appear before Deputy Director Complaint Verification Nirmal Hasni on March 12 at 3pm; a copy of the notice is available with The News, which confirms that there was no inquiry or investigation pending before the NAB against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

The Jang/Geo Group editor-in-chief appeared before the NAB complaint verification officer at 3:15pm. It has been learnt that after appearing before the NAB officer, he was escorted to the office of DG NAB Lahore Saleem Shahzad. God knows what happened there that the DG decided to arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. The NAB has confiscated the personal vehicle of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman along with his cell phones, laptop and other documents in the vehicle. It is pertinent to mention here that at 5:30pm, the NAB Islamabad released the news of the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman instead of the Lahore office.

In a landmark judgment, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has held that the executive power to arrest a person under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) cannot be exercised unnecessarily or for conducting roving inquiries. If an accused is cooperating in an inquiry or investigation and appropriate measures have been taken to ensure his attendance, in such an eventuality, restriction on constitutional rights would be an abuse of the executive power, the verdict authored by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah as head of a two-judge bench including Miangul Hassan Aurganzeb had ruled.

In a press release issued from Islamabad, the NAB spokesperson rejected the allegations levelled by Jang/Geo group’s spokesperson, saying that NAB strongly believes in performing its duties as per the law and the constitution. The spokesperson said the NAB adheres to the policy of considering only the cases without caring about the status of the accused. He said that NAB vehemently believes in freedom of media and will continue its national duties of taking action against the corrupt without caring about any propaganda, pressure, browbeating and threatening.

The spokesperson said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman will be presented before the accountability court Lahore today (Friday) for remand and the NAB will plead its case in the court as per law. The NAB asked the media to avoid speculations about the NAB or its cases and must get the version of NAB from its spokesman before broadcasting/publishing any news about NAB in light of the judgment of Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan in Arshad Sharif case.

Meanwhile, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif have condemned Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest by the NAB. Bilawal’s spokesperson Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said: "We have been pointing out the NAB attitude of exacting political revenge since the day one.” He added: "Imran Khan is using the NAB to target people he does not like." He said the NAB arresting the editor-in-chief of the largest media group in Pakistan is an attack on the freedom of press. The prime minister is trying to snatch the freedom of expression through threats and coercion. Khokhar demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif said the media is the fourth pillar of the state which "fascist rulers" are trying to destroy. "We can smell revenge from Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's arrest," he said and added the media is being suppressed over the past 18 years. A government going down always attacked the media and political opponents.

PPP Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and ANP President Asfand Yar Wali also condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed its "deep concern" over the arrest of the Jang/Geo Group's editor-in-chief. "The HRCP is concerned at the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a 34-year-old property-related matter. There remains a strong suspicion that such actions by the NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically-motivated," tweeted the commission.

"The journalist community sees this as yet another attempt to gag a beleaguered independent press. The HRCP demands that the government immediately take steps to address this issue and prove its commitment to press freedom," it said.