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March 15, 2020

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest: Journalists continue country-wide protests

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March 15, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The journalists and workers of the Jang-Geo Group while condemning the arrest of Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman have announced to initiate a protest movement till his release.

The workers of the Jang Group also formed an action committee comprising representatives from Geo News, Jang and The News which will be headed by President Jang Workers Union Nasir Chishti to formulate the protest movement strategy. The newsmen and workers of the Jang-Geo Group gathered at the Geo office to express their solidarity with the Editor-in-Chief here on Saturday and reiterated their resolve to continue their struggle for the freedom of media and release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Secretary General Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) Nasir Zaidi said the workers of the Jang Group were struggling for the freedom of media and their constitutional right of freedom of expression. “We have faced the military and civilian dictatorships for the freedom of media,” he said. Zaidi said the struggle of the workers Jang-Geo Group would not only help free Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman but will be help gain media its freedom and independence from curbs and censorship. He said the workers’ rights are mandatory and the management must also make a commitment that there will no retrenchment of workers from the Jang Group. He said the workers realise that their group was under hardship and it is time to stand up with it.

The senior anchorperson of Geo News Hamid Mir said that Special Assistant to PM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in press conference the other day tried to give the impression that this is not the issue of freedom of media but that of the business interests of its owner. However, immediately after her press conference the cable operators were directed either to close the Geo News or shift it to the last numbers, “the shifting of Geo News from its original position is sufficient to prove that the government is aiming to suppress the voice of free media,” he said. He said in 1998 efforts were made to close Jang and was forced publish one page only, then the Musharraf regime efforts were made for the closure of Geo, in 2009 in the PPP government shifted Geo to last numbers and same was done during the tenure of the PML-N government and the present government is repeated the same culture. The Pemra has shut down Geo News at some places and shifted it on last numbers at some others.

Mir said the media has struggled for its freedom and will continue doing that. He said previously the competitor channels were not raising their voice when the other channels faced difficulties, but now the workers of all the channels are united. The ARY anchor Arshad Sharif and even Chief Executive of the ARY channel has also condemned leaking the picture of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in NAB custody.

Ex-president PFUJ Afzal Butt said no one has courage to close Jang Group because of the unity of its workers and journalists. “The Action Committee of the Jang workers will be formed to decide the future line of action,” he said. President Jang Worker union Nasir Chishti said the workers were united to lodge their strong protest against the arrest of Editor-in-Chief of Jang-Geo Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman and added we will not only close roads but also will court arrests.

Resident Editor Jang Rawalpindi Hanif Khalid appealed to the prime minister and his government and others to play their role in the release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. He said arresting a person when he was summoned to reply to questions, confiscating his mobile phone and documents raises serous questions about the policies being pursued by the anti graft body. At the occasion, he announced that there will be no more retrenchments of the Jang-Geo Group workers. Editor of The News Rawalpindi-Islamabad Aamir Ghouri said the struggle for the freedom of media will continue with the unity of the journalist community.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked the Government of Pakistan to immediately lift restrictions placed on Geo News and allow it to broadcast freely.

It said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) contacted cable distributors throughout the country and ordered them to stop transmitting Geo TV, or else switch its broadcasts to a higher channel that is harder for viewers to find. “The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority must immediately reverse its orders and allow cable distributors to restore the regular transmission of Geo News,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Pakistani authorities need to learn that critical coverage by the media is a key and welcome component of democracy, not something to be suppressed.” The CPJ emailed Pemra for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

The Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) strongly condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. In a statement, it said that Jang-Geo Group is one of the oldest and largest media houses in the country. It said that arresting the editor-in-chief of a media house, while the case is still in complaint verification phase and during a call up notice, appears to be a harassing action against the media group's editorial policy as also claimed by the group and such arrest are violative of the judgments of the superior courts. The PAS asked the government and opposition parties to look into the case immediately to ensure that it is not an attempt by elements in NAB to muzzle the criticism by the media group against them.

The Patron in-Chief of Supreme Shia Ulama Board and Head of Tehreek-e-Nifaz Fiqah-e-Jafariya Agha Syed Hamid Ali Shah Moosavi said that the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the NAB is a contempt of journalism that could harm the NAB as well as the government’s repute.

“Therefore, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman must be urgently released to ensure justice and fair play,” he noted. He maintained that freedom of media and expression was critically important while suppressing journalism was the death for democracy. The JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman condemned the arrest of Jang Group Editor-in-Chief and said the ‘selected government’ had resorted to such tactics to hide its incompetence.

He made these remarks while talking to a party delegation led by JUI-F Mardan chapter secretary information Maulana Qaiseruddin in Islamabad. Fazlur Rehman said the NAB was being used to silence the media. However, he added that the opposition parties would soon come up with a strategy to counter such steps of the government. The Maulana said that the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was an attack on the press freedom, which has exposed the real face of Imran Khan. He said the arrest of Mir Shakil was a warning for all the media houses that whoever criticised this incompetent government would meet the same fate.

Protests were also held by journalists in different parts of Punjab, Sindh and KP. In Jhang, office-bearers of the press clubs and different journalist unions condemned the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In different statements, the journalists’ bodies functioning in all tehsils of the district termed the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman an attack on media and press freedom. They said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was detained in a case filed 34 years ago. The Jhang Union of Journalists former general secretary Riaz Naul and others while condemning the arrest, demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Bahawalpur, scores of journalists, including office-bearers of the Bahawalpur Press Club, office-bearers of the Bahawalpur Union of Journalists (Burna Group), the Bahawalpur Union of Journalists (Dastoori Group) and representatives of other journalists’ forum staged demonstrations against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. They raised slogans for the immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. The protesters took out a rally from press club to University Chowk to condemn the arrest. The rally was addressed by Muhammad Ameen Abbasi, Bahawalpur Press Club president Naseer Ahmad Nasir and others.

In Nankana Sahib, former federal minister Ch Barjees Tahir strongly condemned the arrest of Jang-Geo Group Editor-in-Chief. While talking to journalists, he said that democracy was incomplete without the independence of media. He said that PML-N had decided to move to the Supreme Court against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. In Gujranwala, a rally was taken out against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. The journalists gathered outside the press club and demanded justice from the courts. Bureau Chief of The News Muhammad Azam Butt also condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. In Pakpattan, the PML-N district president Khan Imtiaz Ali Khan and others flayed the arrest of Jang-Geo Group Editor-in-Chief by the NAB in Lahore. They demanded his immediate release. In Hafizabad, journalists staged a demonstration against the arrest of Jang-Geo Group Editor-in-Chief. The protesters gathered outside the press club and chanted slogans in support of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Rahimyar Khan, different media, social and political organisations on protested against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. They chanted slogans against his arrest and demanded his immediate release.

In Karachi, the Press Club President Imtiaz Khan Faran said the autocratic policies of the government to muzzle the media have been further highlighted with the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and the blanket ban on the transmission of the Geo News across the country.

Faran was speaking at a protest demonstration held outside the Jang-Geo offices in Karachi by the journalist community against the federal government’s actions through the NAB and Pemra. Besides journalists, political personalities and trade unionists also joined the protest. Faran said with this action, Prime Minister Imran Khan has betrayed the same media which helped him to come to the power. He added that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the coalition allies of the government are responsible for the crisis in the media industry which has rendered many journalists jobless, slashed and withheld their salaries. He said that the KPC stood with the journalist community and will not let anyone stab media in the back. He added that the government's design to gag the media can no more remain hidden behind any facade after Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested prematurely without due investigations and the cable operators were threatened to either shut down the Geo News or push it on the last numbers.

The President of Karachi Union of Journalists (Dastoor), Tariq Abul Hasan, said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's arrest was condemned across the world because it was not an attack on a person alone but an attempt to gag the media and the collective voice of the 22 million people of Pakistan. He added that former dictator Pervez Musharraf had also tried the same but he terribly failed despite all his power. He said similarly Khan will also not succeed in his agenda because the journalists will fight back.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that the 'Azadi Street' where the demonstration was held, had a history of hosting demonstrations for media liberties and the struggle for media workers. He said that the PTI government's crackdown is a repetition of the actions of the dictatorial regime of 2007 which had similarly banned Geo News. Lamenting on the divide in the media ranks, Abbas said it is pity that the Jang-Geo group has to struggle alone against the draconian curbs since no other channel was standing by with the Geo TV in this struggle for the freedom of the independent media. Referring to the PTI government’s so-called accountability process, Abbas said that the rulers pledged indiscriminate accountability, while their actions prove discriminatory which brings their own credibility to question. He added that the journalist fraternity would continue its strong opposition against media crackdown and on Monday a country-wide protests will be taken out.

The Karachi Bureau Chief of the Geo News Fahim Siddiqui said that due to vindictive nature of the incompetent rulers, the Azadi Street was buzzing with activities again like it did during the Gen Musharraf's dictatorial regime. He said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested because he did not succumb to the pressure from the different quarters nor did he compromise on his principles.

President of Jang Employees Union Rafiq Bashir said that Imran Khan in a speech had declared his plan to arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and he has now implemented that. He said that the government has failed to understand that such coercive actions will not harm Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman but the whole nation.

In Peshawar, the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) and members of the Peshawar Press Club (PPC) took out a rally against the arrest and asked the government to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and restore the Geo News transmission on its previous numbers.

Led by the PPC president, Syed Bukhar Shah and KhUJ former president Arshad Aziz Malik, the protesters were carrying banners and placards inscribed with slogans against the government and illegal action of the NAB.

They marched on the road outside Peshawar Press Club and chanted slogans to demand release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and restoration of Geo News programmes. Besides the journalists, members of civil society, and the JUI-F secretary information, Abdul Jalil Jan, PML-N Ikhtiar Wali, Syed Wali Shah Afridi, secretary information, QWP Tariq Khan and others also participated in the protest rally. The protesters pledged not to accept the dictatorial policies and illegal actions of the government. Speaking on the occasion, President PPC Syed Bukhar Shah criticised the government for arresting Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman without fulfilling legal formalities in a 34 years old property case. He recalled that such tactics had been applied in the past against The News and Geo only to stop free media from performing its duty. He said the journalists had always rendered sacrifices for the independence of media and would do so in future. He asked the government to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman forthwith.

Arshad Aziz Malik said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested in a private property case purchased many years ago only to pressurise the The News and Geo into toeing the government line. He said the Jang Group was reporting truth, which was not acceptable to the government and rulers. He asked the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of the illegal action of the NAB and government. The JUI-F’s Abdul Jalil Jan condemned the arrest and said that the price-hike, unemployment and lawlessness had made the lives of people miserable but the government was trying to gag voice of journalists. Terming the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman as a warning to others media workers and groups, he said that the rulers wanted the media to follow their dictates.

The QWP’s Tariq Khan termed arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman a shameful act and an effort to strangulate voice of independent media. In Swabi, journalists as well as activists of PML-N, JUI-F and JI staged a protest demonstration against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Carrying placards inscribed with different slogans against curbs on media and against the arrest of Geo Group Editor-in-Chief, the journalists and leaders of the parties gathered at Karnal Sher Khan Chowk. Speaking on the occasion, the leaders asked the government to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman forthwith.

In Nowshera, local journalists along with leaders of different parties including JUI-F, PML-N, ANP, JI, QWP, traders, newspapers hawkers and civil society members condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. They started march from the Nowshera Press Club and gathered at Shobra Chowk on Grand Trunk Road. The journalists and leaders asked the government to mend its ways as free media was not its enemy. They appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the illegal action of NAB and order release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Hangu, journalists belonging to unions of the Orakzai and Hangu press clubs staged protest rallies and sit-ins against the arrest and termed it an attack on the independent press. The media persons staged a protest meeting at the main chowk in Hangu bazaar and chanted slogans against the government for its anti-journalism policies. The protesting journalists said that the NAB had crossed all limits of decency and ignored legal course to harass respectable people of the society in a bid to appease the rulers.

Journalists of Bannu Press Club in their protest also condemned the NAB for the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a private property case prior to the completion of an inquiry. Muhammad Alam Khan, Ajmal Qamar, Adil Manan and others said that the day of the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman would be remembered as one of the darkest days in the country’s journalism history. They termed the arrest a brazen attack on the free press and sane voices and demanded his release forthwith.

In Takht Bhai, staging a protest rally against arrest of the Jang and Geo editor-in-chief, the journalists of Shergarh Press Club vowed that they would not accept any restrictions on the free media. Leading the rally, press club president Bakhtullah Jan Hasrat said that it was regrettable that the independent media organisations were being muzzled to silence them in one way or the other.

In Chakdara, local politicians, traders and members of civil society also joined the protest of journalists staged against the arrest. Pakistan People’s Party leader and former minister Bakht Baidar Khan, Amanullah Khan, Adinzai Qaumi Jirga chief Khurshid Ali Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Amir Sltanat advocate, traders’ leader Khawaj Faizul Ghafoor, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Sartaj Khan, senior journalist Syed Zafar Ali Shah and others condemned the arrest of editor-in-chief of the News and Geo News and demanded his unconditional release.

In Mingora, the journalists of Swat Press Club also staged a rally and announced a three-day mourning against the arrest. They chanted slogans against the government and NAB and asked them to stop harassing free media organisations. The Press club ex-chairman Syed Shahabuddin, chairman Sherinzada, general secretary Salim Athar, electronic media president Niaz Ahmad spoke on the occasion and demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Protest rallies also held in Kohat, Chitral, Bajaur, Mohmand Upper Dir Lower Dir, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan North Waziristan and South Waziristan, Mardan, Kohistan, Battagram.