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March 14, 2020

Condemnations ring out in NA over Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief’s arrest

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March 14, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Friday strongly condemned in the National Assembly the arrest of Jang and Geo Media Group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Speaking on the floor of the Lower House of Parliament, former prime minister and Senior Vice President of PML-N Shahid Khaqan Abbasi lamented that the editor-in-chief of the largest media group in Pakistan had been arrested. “Is NAB an institution for revenge that it will arrest anyone speaking against it?” he asked.

Abbasi called for the tradition of political victimisation through the offices of NAB to be abolished. “The ink has not even dried yet on the Islamabad High Court’s judgment which details the conditions of arrest, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman has been arrested,” he said.

The government should refrain from political victimisation and focus on other pressing issues, he said. Abbasi urged the government to focus on coronavirus instead. The former premier said coronavirus “is becoming serious with each passing day”. “I request the government to let go of political victimisation for the next two or three weeks and focus on the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.

PPP senior leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also brought up the arrest of the Jang Editor-in-Chief in his speech. “A complaint was lodged against the owner of Jang Group and he came to NAB offices to provide answers. However, he was arrested upon his arrival,” he said. “The press gallery is empty today. The media is protesting. Under what emergency was the owner of a media house arrested?”

Separately, the US State Department also expressed concern over Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest. “We noted with concern the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the owner of a leading media company in #Pakistan. Press freedom, due process, and the rule of law are pillars of every democracy,” said Alice Wells, of the the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

Meanwhile, following Prime Minister’s aide on information Firdous Ashiq Awan’s press conference regarding Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest, cable operators started receiving directives to shut down Geo TV’s broadcast or shift the channel to the end numbers.

Geo News Director News Rana Jawad said the directives to cable operators came from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). “Cable operators are being asked to change Geo’s position [on TV channel numbers]. Shifting the channel to the last numbers means shutting down its broadcast,” he said. He said Geo tried to contact Pemra chairman for a clarification on the matter but he could not be reached.

Pemra Chairman Muhammad Saleem said he did not issue any directives to shut down Geo’s broadcast or shift the channel to the end numbers in various cities across the country.

Despite the orders, many cable operators refused to obey directives from the media regulatory authority to shut down Geo’s broadcast or shift it to the end numbers, saying it was an illegal move and they would not cave under pressure, Geo News reported.

Earlier on Friday, an accountability court gave 12-day physical remand of Jang/Geo Media Group’s Editor-in-Chief to the NAB in relation to the alleged illegal purchase of property more than 34 years ago, Geo News reported.

The Jang Group chairman was brought to the accountability court under heavy security. During the hearing, Rahman’s lawyer, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, asked why his client had not been shown his arrest warrants.

Ahsan told the court that NAB had not issued any notice to Rahman and that the bureau does not have the authority to make an arrest in the case without concrete evidence. “The NAB chief [Javed Iqbal] signed off on the arrest warrants of [Rahman]. We have still not been provided with a copy of those warrants,” Ahsan reminded the courtroom. He said arresting Rahman in a matter dating back decades “proves the mala fide intentions of the bureau”.

“The property in question was bought by [Rahman] from a third-party and the LDA (Lahore Development Authority) was not involved,” Ahsan said, dismissing all allegations to the contrary. “My client did not commit any wrongdoing in the purchase of the property. He was only arrested because his name is Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman,” Ahsan argued.

“Some people do not tire of speaking against my client. The legal procedures were not even completed before my client was arrested in the case. This proves the mala fide intentions of the bureau,” he reiterated.

“Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was summoned by NAB on February 28, and he appeared before it. He was asked to appear again on March 12, and he did so again. How did he break the law in any way?” Ahsan asked. “On March 12, NAB did not listen to the answers my client had provided in response to an earlier inquiry. They just said that on the orders of the NAB chief, you are being placed under arrest,” Ahsan noted.

The court then asked the NAB prosecutor, Hafiz Asadullah, to explain in detail why the Bureau had placed Rahman under arrest. “We started investigations against [Rahman] in December 2019,” Asadullah said. “When Nawaz Sharif was chief minister, [Rahman] obtained 54 plots from him,” he alleged. “[Rahman] illegally obtained plots from the LDA. He could not provide us with records related to these plots,” added the NAB prosecutor.

Upon this, the counsel for Rahman reminded the prosecutor that an Islamabad High Court order issued last week had clearly stated that if an individual was cooperating with the inquiry, they should not be placed under arrest.

However, after listening to the arguments, the court handed Rahman over to NAB for a 12-day physical remand and postponed proceedings in the case until March 25.

Earlier, while speaking to the media, Rahman said NAB had refused to listen to his answers when he appeared for the March 12 hearing. “I was issued a notice two days ago which asked me to come to the NAB offices with everything [documents related to the inquiry],” he told reporters. “I appeared before NAB. I told them that I have brought written answers and would respond to all their queries. I was asked additional questions too, which I answered.

“NAB did not listen to my answers. They have a recording of my answers and I wish that recording was released to the media. This is the second time I was not heard by the accountability body,” he added.—News Desk/Agencies