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July 6, 2020

International conference: Press freedom, release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman demanded

Top Story

July 6, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The first-ever virtual consultative international conference was held on Sunday to discuss overall situation of the media, currently being suppressed by the government especially in the context of illegal detention of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for the last 114 days.

The virtual meeting jointly passed a resolution that the voice of the media was the voice of society and arrest of Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was cruelty and equal to gagging of the media in Pakistan.

The conference demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and withdrawal of draconian restrictions on the media.

The meeting was aimed to bring together journalists, civil society members, lawyers, human rights activists, private sector professionals and policymakers to primarily establish a coordination mechanism among different stakeholders for making a joint effort to compel the government to end illegal confinement of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and unannounced censorship on the media.

More than 35 participants from all-over the world, especially from the USA, the UK, EU and Pakistan attended the conference. They declared that such unbecoming restrictions on the media were damaging the image of Pakistan before the world community.

Pakistan Bar Council Vice President Abid Saqi said when some governments are suspicious about their legitimacy, they use such coercive tactics.

He said journalists should join civil society and progressive political parties to raise their voice for the press freedom and launching an awareness campaign.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said the current media crisis in the country was the worst one ever experienced in Pakistan.

He said that during the martial-law regimes, they used to censor and stop newspapers. But now they have brought sophisticated restrictions with a democratic facade. Due to the government action, thousands of journalists had become unemployed, he regretted.

He said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest was a clear message to all the media that the press freedom was under threat. “Senior journalists should make a pressure group to deal with the situation, he added.

Raza Rumi, a senior journalist, said that Channel 24 had been closed, which was against freedom and democracy. He said the press freedom was not only a matter of concern for journalists but it also impacts country’s democracy and society as a whole. “We will have to align with civil society and political parties and make them realise that this is their matter also,” he added.

Senior journalist from Dawn, based in Washington, Anwar Iqbal, said the media persons should tell what they want from overseas journalists.

Senior journalist and anchorperson Hamid Mir said today is July 5, and this date has a deep relationship with strangling of press freedom. “It’s a good omen that we are together on this day,” he added,

He said that press freedom was related to democracy and no matter what kind of democracy it was, but it was better than dictatorship. “We should say that we will always stay with democracy regardless of which political party comes,” he added.

He said that last year, journalists observed a black day in July and protested in 16 cities of Pakistan. “We were stopped, Channel 24, Dawn, Ab Tak, Capital TV were stopped and no channel including Geo run that news story, and papers did not publish it, but we broke it on the social media,” he added.

“We warned the owners of TV channels that if you don’t stand with us, tomorrow they will stop you too. Today, we are all condemning Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest and the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association should also participate in the protest. “We will continue protesting against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest but other institutions should also join us like the PFUJ,” he added.

He said that not only Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was in jail, but Channel 24 had also been stopped. “I appreciate press clubs of Karachi, Quetta, Lahore for returning financial assistance cheques back to the government. You can’t buy us,” he added.

PFUJ former president Afzal Butt said that all who are in favour of press freedom have always stood by it even in General Ayub, Zia and Musharraf eras. Whenever the media was constrained, our overseas journalists became our voice and take it to the outside world. Zia lynched journalists and we have seen this even today; this is the same Gen Zia’s time, he said.

Senior journalist Saleem Bukhari said this was not the first step of the government towards stopping the media. He said the way they have made a 34-year-old case against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was ridiculous.

He said Imran Khan was also accused of getting land from the Punjab government for Shaukat Khan hospital. He said even dictators could not stand against journalists, what was the position of this weak govt?

Dr Naseem Shekhani, former president of APNA, said: “In the US, we learnt that there should be press freedom. “We have fought for these freedoms in Pakistan and we have seen arrests of our friends. We have to make a plan,” he added.

Dr Professor Munawar Sabir said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was victimisation and suppression of the voice of media and society.

Lahore Press Club President Arshad Ansari said the PTI government had always attempted to gag the media after coming to power, as it had failed to fulfil all its promises. “What they have done with TV channels is unprecedented. They have arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a baseless case. The govt should be ashamed of itself. Is this the manifesto of the PTI,” he asked.

Shaukat Dar, UK Press Club president, said today (July 5) is a very important day in Pakistan’s history. “This is a black day that Pakistan is still under its shadow. We were in school and colleges at that time, and now we are old ones, but the shadow of that era had not subsided,” he said.

He said that in the UK, they had launched a protest campaign against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest in all cities of the UK, but then the lockdown happened.

Azeem M Mian, senior journalist from the USA, said that the voice against arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman would be raised at international level especially in parliament and human rights groups in the USA we are with Pakistani journalists community.

Channel 24 Director News Mian Tahir said: “The seminar was highly needed at this time.

“We protest the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and the language used by Premier Imran Khan against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.”

Khalid Hameed Farouqi, bureau chief Jang Group EU, said the European Parliament issued a detailed statement on the issue. And at diplomatic level, Pakistan pledged to uphold press freedom.

“Even GSP plus is dependent on this. The government should realise that Pakistan’s diplomatic, economic and political interests require press freedom,” he added.

He said the Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) raised their voice against the press freedom violations and detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. “What legacy Imran Khan wants to leave? Does he want to become a fascist of the world like trump or Modi? We will go to every EU institution and tell them about the situation in Pakistan,” he added.

Asif Ali Bhatti, senior journalist and secretary general of Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), was host of the conference. He said that after confinement of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman without any charges, now Channel 24 had been closed, and the entire media was being suppressed. Chaining Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was equal to chaining the media, he said adding that the Jang Group had always been targeted for its neutral and objective reporting.

Iftikhar Sherazi (Dawn News Islamabad Bureau Chief), Dr Ijaz Ahmed (Chairman APPAC in the US), Rafiq Mughal (UK Press Club), Imran Saqib (President Press Club Brussels), Khalid Hameed Farouqi (EU), Khurram Kaleem (Director News City 42), Ammir Sajjad Syed (President RIUJ), Nawaz Raza (President PFUJ Dastoor), Shahadat Hussain (ex-president MUJ), Mohsin Zaheer (senior journalist USA), Anwar Iqbal (senior journalist USA), Naveed Chaudhry (senior journalist Lahore), Imtiyaz Faran (President Karachi Press Club), Hamza Salam (senior journalist UK), Wajahat Ali Khan (senior journalist UK), Mubeen Chaudhry (senior journalist UK) and many others participated in the conference.