LAHORE: Senior journalists, civil society leaders, office-bearers of media unions and trade union of Jang group on Saturday accused the PTI government of undermining the media freedom through detaining Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman under the NAB custody in a politically-motivated case for the last 161 days without finding any proof of their charges or making any progress in investigations.
Staging a demonstration outside the Jang offices at a protest camp of the workers of Geo, Jang and The News employees for the 139th consecutive day, they lamented that Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came into power claiming to make Pakistan a Madina-like state, has been victimizing Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for exposing the corruption and bad governance of the PTI government. They said there was neither any progress in investigations into the corruption charges of a 35 years old property exchange case against him nor any formal case was registered. The participants termed it a blatant attack on media freedom, chanted slogans against the ‘fascist PTI regime’ and condemned the illegal and anti-media tactics of the NAB. They demanded that the chief justice take a suo motu action against this gross injustice against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s illegal arrest which is a direct attack on the freedom of expression and liberty of media. They vowed to continue struggle for Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's release till his freedom and warned PM Imran Khan to reign in the NAB from further victimization of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. They demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and warned that any direct action could be taken against the PTI government to deter it from dictatorial policies to curb freedom of expression and force economic murder of media workers for long. They threatened to launch an anti-government movement across the country if he is not released.
Those who participated in the protest included Secretary General of Jang Workers Union Farooq Malik, News Editor of Pakistan Times Zaheer Anjum, Awais Qarni, Sher Ali Khalti, Aziz Sheikh, Munawar Hussain, Muhammad Naeem, Muhammad Wajed, Wahab Khanzada, Akmal Bhatti, Hafiz Asad, Mohammed Ali, Akmal Bhatti, Afzal Abbas and others.
Zaheer Anjum termed the PTI government the worst kind of fascist and authoritarian regime bent upon gagging the voice of media to prevent exposure of its own corruption and bad governance. He warned that the owners of other media houses are the next target as Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is the first casualty in the PTI government’s stifling media policy. He said choking the entire media would become an easy target for the PTI government and the establishment when the top-ranking media houses would either be closed down or badly reduced to size. He said media owners must realize that unless they empower their workers and professional journalists, their own strength would be seriously curtailed, and they would become an easy prey for the establishment and ruling elite. He said the case of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should serve as an eye-opener for all media owners.
He said the media cannot work for the truth without freedom as it plays the role of a watchdog for the society and country. He noted that such victimizations were forced by dictators like Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq, Gen Pervez Musharraf in the past, and now media workers are being victimized by Imran Khan who was selected by the establishment to curb media. He said the whole world knew the truth that Imran Khan was selected in sham elections and is now proving that he is not the representative of the masses and democracy.
Farooq Malik said victimization of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman must come to an end after the detention of over five months, and he should be released as his arrest is a symbolic move to usurp media freedom. Already the results desired by the rulers are coming out and the arrest is leading towards crumbling of other media houses and closure of noted news channels and retrenchment of workers in others recently. He said the journalists would continue struggle for justice and release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, adding that when the journalists waged struggle for freedom of expression, they always succeeded and many dictators in the past had to bite the dust.
Sher Ali said the fabricated case against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should be withdrawn and he should be released. He warned if Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is not released, the protest would increase creating more problems for the government. He said the government instead of tackling the coronavirus and providing relief to the starving people under lockdown is busy curbing the voice of media and victimizing the media owners. He said the Jang Group always reported the truth. The PTI government is using all pressure tactics to subdue the press and the Jang Group is bearing the brunt being the largest media house in the country.
Awais Qarni said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is a symbol of freedom of expression and this struggle is not only for his release but also for the freedom of media in the future. He warned this campaign would continue against the puppet rulers even after his release since it is a conspiracy against the journalists and the freedom of expression. He said everybody in the country, who struggled for the freedom of expression, is Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
He said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is not only a conspiracy against the Jang/Geo Group but also the first step to mute all voices of independent media. He said the journalists staging hunger strikes have proved that they would win this battle also as they had achieved success in the past against the military dictators. He said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is the voice of suppressed people and democracy.
Muhammad Ali said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is being punished for writing and reporting the truth but the rulers would not be able to pressure him as he represents the free media. He said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is meant to suppress the independent media and it is an illegal detention since he always kept his financial dealings clean and its proof is that no government could ever find any doubtful deal with him.
Munawar Hussain said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman would always be known by the nation for his stand against the enemies of the press freedom. He pledged that the protest and struggle of journalists and workers will continue till the freedom of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
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