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ISLAMABAD: National and international media bodies, civil society and human rights bodies have condemned the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman and demanded his immediate release.
“Pakistani authorities should immediately release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, editor-in-chief of the Jang Media Group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement.
“Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau should immediately release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and drop the obviously drummed-up case against him,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “This arrest over a 34-year-old land deal makes a mockery of Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy that upholds freedom of the press.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also expressed grave concern over the arrest of the Jang/Geo Group editor-in-chief and demanded his immediate release. “It is clear that Shakilur #Rahman's arrest has absolutely no legal ground, and is rather an act of harassment against all #JangGroup journalists because they refuse to toe the gvt's line. @RSF_inter calls for his immediate release!” it said in a Tweet.
All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) also strongly condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the NAB.
Hameed Haroon, President, and Sarmad Ali, Secretary General, APNS, have stated that the arrest of the editor-in-chief of the leading media house was a clear indication that the present government has moved forward in its attempt to silence the independent media in the country.
The APNS is of the considered opinion that the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is a severe blow to the freedom of press and expression and it will be widely condemned by media and human rights organizations. The APNS strongly urges the political, social and democratic forces in the country to raise their own voices of dissent to safeguard and protect freedom of the press and civil liberties.
The office-bearers have appealed to the chief justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan, to take suo motu notice of the action against the free press in Pakistan to safeguard the Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) President Arif Nizami has expressed grave concern over the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. “For the NAB to arrest the Editor-in-Chief at this initial stage of the investigation is uncalled for and is another example of what the Islamabad High Court observed last week about NAB’s practice of arresting individuals without enough proof only to cause harm to their reputations,” Nizami stated in a press release.
“While it is up to the courts to decide on the merits of the case, the manner in which this arrest has taken place paints a bleak picture of the future of media freedom in the country,” he concluded.
Pakistan Federal union of journalists (PFUJ) expressed deep concern at the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by NAB. It said there remains a strong suspicion that such actions by NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically motivated.
In a joint statement by President PFUJ Shehzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi called for immediate release of Shakil-ur-Rehman as it is in violation to the court orders which directed NAB not to arrest anyone during the investigation of the case.
Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) also strongly condemned the arrest. The RIUJ Amir Sajjad Sayed and General Secretary Asif Ali Bhatti termed the arrest an open attack on freedom of journalism.
The Karachi Press Club while strongly condemning the NAB for arresting the Jang Group's Editor-in-Chief termed it unwarranted since he was arrested by NAB in a case prematurely without completion of investigations, legal formalities ensuring transparency and without adequate evidence.
The arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the Press Club said reflects, personal bias, animosity and enmity driven to attaining some ulterior objectives. The press club and the journalist fraternity of Karachi considers Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's arrest as an attempt to gag free media, constrain its independence and subduing the independent policies of the media houses to its whims.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) while strongly condemning the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman said Jang Group is one of the oldest and largest media houses in the country. It said arresting the editor-in-chief of a media house, while the case is still under inquiry and on a call-up notice, appears to be an attempt of harassment for the media group's editorial policy as also claimed by the group and such arrests are against the judgments of the superior courts.
The PBA urged the government and opposition parties to look into the matter immediately to ensure that it is not an attempt to muzzle the criticism by the media group against them.
All Pakistan Akhbar Farosh Federation President Amir Ahmed Baloch and Secretary General Tikka Khan have also condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and demanded his immediate release.
“The arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief of Jang Group and Geo, has come at a time when media freedom in Pakistan is already under pressure as highlighted in recent surveys and statements by international, national media organizations and watchdogs,” said Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors.
It said the detention of the Jang/Geo group Editor-in-Chief by the NAB has come within a week of complaint verification stage, which is unusual and unprecedented and lacks transparency.
The association called on NAB to ensure that the inquiry is held transparently, impartially and within the dictates of law and ensuring fundamental rights of the accused.
The HRCP is also deeply concerned at the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. “There remains a strong suspicion that such actions by NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically motivated. The journalist community sees this as yet another attempt to gag a beleaguered independent press. HRCP demands that the government should immediately take steps to address this issue and prove its commitment to #pressfreedom,” the HRCP said.
Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Vice Chairman Abid Saqi said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was done to silence the voice of Jang and Geo Group which, according to him, always stood by the democratic forces. He said as per laid down procedure after holding inquiry, the NAB should have conducted the investigation and arrest the person if some substantial material was collected against him.
He was of the view that the NAB has been violating fundamental rights of citizens by arresting them without having incriminating material.
Pakistan Bar Council Member Azam Nazir Tarar also criticized the NAB for arresting Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman at a stage where the complaint has not been verified yet. He said the Jang and Geo Group is being punished for standing by the democratic forces in the country. He was of the view that the Lahore High Court might set aside his arrest, if challenged, for being illegal.
Former president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Amanullah Kanrani has termed the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman against basic rights.
In a statement, he said that arrest being made by the anti-graft body in cases tantamount to punishment before crime. He said that an allegation which is made merely on papers and until and unless those papers are not produced in a court of law and the accused is not provided an opportunity of self-defence is violation of articles 9 and 10-A of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Rashid A Rizvi, another former president of SCBA strongly condemned the arrest of Mir Shakeel-ur-Rahman.
Speaking in Geo News programme Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Key Saath, he said that NAB can make arrest only when someone tries to flee abroad or try to tamper with any record of any case. He said that Mir Shakil did appear before the court for complaint verification in response to the notice sent to him by NAB. However, he said that the arrest of Mir Shakil by NAB is totally against the basic fundamental rights of an individual as enshrined in the Constitution.
Senior anchor-person Geo News Hamid Mir termed the arrest as kidnapping and keeping him habeas corpus. He said under section 24(a) of NAB Ordinance, the chairman NAB shall have the power at any stage of the investigation under this ordinance, to direct that the accused, if not already arrested, shall be arrested. ... (e) The chairman, NAB may declare and notify any place as a sub-jail at his discretion.
Hamid Mir said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman first appeared before NAB on March 5 and then on March 12 for complaint verification however he was arrested.
"The NAB has violated its own law as it cannot arrest a person on complaint verification," Hamid Mir said. He said that the NAB did not arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman but kidnapped him and put him in habeas corpus. He said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman has now became part of list of those journalists like Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar who were imprisoned for raising the voice for freedom of press.
Renowned personalities belonging to fine arts and showbiz have also condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
While taking to The News, Salima Hashmi, a renowned artist, teacher, an internationally acknowledged art teacher and performing arts personality, had a very firm stand on this act of arresting Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman; said, “Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the case against MSR, this action by the government can be read most definitely as assault on the press, and yet another draconian measure to silence dissent and stifle the freedom of expression by whatever means possible.”
Singer Jawad Ahmed and chairman Pakistan Brabari Party termed the arrest regretful and commendable act if he has been arrested without proof. He was of the view that as a principle, the law questioned the credibility of the NAB, adding that lately the NAB as an institution has lost its credibility due to its unjustified practices which included the arrests of people without proof. He added that NAB has been indulged in this practice of arresting people first then looking for proof has become a common exercise. He said many people have been arrested then, after some time, were released by the NAB due to insufficient proof.
Tasneem Peerzada, a journalist, columnist and a poetess, condemned the unjustified arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman without any proof and termed it an absolutely wrong act on the part of the NAB.
She said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is not only a very positive person but also the custodian of healthy practices and values in journalism. She pointed out that she had been one of the pioneer journalists of the early days of Jang newspaper and it was Shakil-ur-Rahman, who, not only guided her but also kept grooming her with his very respectable attitude.