Protesters set up hunger strike camps across Pakistan over arrest and continued detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman
Outside the Jang building on Davis Road in Lahore, journalists have established a hunger strike camp to protest the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the editor-in-chief of the Jang Group by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
On a daily basis, journalists from different media groups, representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs), Pakistan Federal Unions of Journalists (PFUJ) leaders, Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) members, political workers and religious leaders come over to express solidarity with them. They greet the protesters, join them in chanting slogans and generally condemn the persecution of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman as an attack on the freedom of press.
Speaking during a similar visit to the camp, Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan Naib Ameer Liaqat Baloch demanded that the chief justice of Pakistan take suo motu notice of the illegal arrest and order his release.
Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, he said, had been arrested because his media group had been criticizing the government and exposing its wrongdoings. He said this could be described as victimisation of the media group and its owner. He said those leading national institutions should tolerate criticism. He said he was demanding early release of Rahman on behalf of all religio-political parties.
Shaheen Qureshi, the Jang group editor, said the NAB had exceeded its mandate in arresting Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a case involving private property. Qureshi said there was no real case against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and that he was being denied due process. He also demanded the immediate payment of Rs 6 billion, he said the government owed media houses.
Stressing the illegal nature of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest, he said the case against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was “bogus”. He also said arresting Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman at the inquiry stage appeared to be an act of revenge by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“The prime minister had warned in political meetings and processions even before coming to power that he would take action against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and Jang group. He has done exactly that,” said Qureshi.
Qamar Bhatti, the Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) president, said: “The journalist fraternity has always defied dictators. We stood against Zia’s atrocious regime. We faced Ayub Khan. We never compromised with Musharraf,” he said. He said the journalists would stand up to Imran Khan’s government to stop its attacks against the profession. “History bears witness that journalists have never bowed down to dictators. They have always exposed them. Journalists have the role of a watch-dog. They will report what they see, what they hear and what they can find out and cannot be stopped from criticizing a government in public interest. Healthy societies and healthy minds welcome such criticism because it is for the good of the society. Criticising government leaders is not a crime. The prime minister should focus on improving the performance of his government rather than try to curb the freedom of the media,” he said.
“Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman represents the voice of the people who have been long ignored. Jang group has been raising the issues that concern the destitute and the vulnerable. Wherever there have been atrocities, the papers and Geo have highlighted them. The arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is meant to deprive the people of their fundamental rights, including their right to know the truth. Jang and Geo also represent voices for a strong democracy. Such voices cannot be silenced,” said Abdullah Malik, an advocate and a member of civil society organization. He said that the detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was conspiracy against democracy and freedom of expression and paid rich tributes to Jang Group and its owners for their contribution to the promotion of democracy in Pakistan.
Similar protest camps have been set up in Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Multan and Faisalabad. Each of these has been drawing leaders of public opinion. In Islamabad, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former federal minister Maryam Aurangzeb were among such visitors. “It is unfortunate that a person who should have been honoured for his services to the country, has been imprisoned,” said Abbasi.
The former prime minister also said the nation was confronted with the coronavirus pandemic. He said was regrettable that the rulers were oblivious to the difficulties of people and focusing instead on a crack down on Jang-Geo Group. He said the group was one of the biggest media houses in Asia and if that free media could only bolster a government’s democratic credentials.