The countrywide protest of workers of Jang Publications completed 87th day on Monday against the illegal arrest of the group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
Carrying banners and placards inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands, protestors demanded the immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and condemned the curbs on the freedom of media.
Speaking on the occasion, Resident Editor Jang Peshawar Arshad Aziz Malik, senior journalists, Shah Zaman, Iqbal Hussain Awan, Jaffar Shah and others vowed to continue protest till the acceptance of their demands.
Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman owner and editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s largest media group, Jang Publications, was arrested last month on accusations of unlawfully buying a property in the 1980s. The country’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) alleges that Rehman illegally leased government land in 1986 and managed to have ownership rights transferred to him in 2016 when ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was at the helm.
Terming the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for the last 87 days as “unjust”, the speakers pointed out that the editor of the major media group was detained without completing the investigations process.
“The government is not only violating the constitution but also the human rights of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by keeping him in custody without any charge,” the speakers said.
In Lahore, senior journalists, civil society leaders, office-bearers of media unions and Jang Group’s trade union condemned what they called “NAB-Niazi” connivance under which they had arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
The protestors lamented that those claiming to make Pakistan a “Madina-like” state have incarcerated Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman even in Ramazan even though there was no progress in investigations against him.
The protestors warned that the government cannot continue its dictatorial policies to curb freedom of expression and force economic murder of media workers for long. They further threatened to launch anti-government movement across the country if Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was not released.
Jang’s Group Editor Shaheen Qureshi termed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government fascist and the worst kind of authoritarian regime that was bent upon gagging the voice of independent media to protect its own corruption.
He warned that Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was the first casualty in PTI government’s stifling media policy and other owners of the media houses were the next target.
“Gagging the voice of media would become an easy target for the ruling elite and establishment when few top-ranking media houses would either be closed down or badly reduced to size with a little number of employees left,” Qureshi 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,” he said adding that the case of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should serve as an eye-opener for all media owners.
He further demanded the government release the withheld Rs. 6 billion of media houses immediately so that media workers could be paid their salaries and dues under difficult times created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The government had acknowledged Rs. 3 billion arrears so far but it is still not ready to release that amount despite making promises,” Qureshi said.
Senior journalist Sher Ali Khalti warned that if Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was not released immediately, journalists would stage protests outside the National Assembly, Punjab Assembly and all the major cities.
In Multan, the protestors said that the press and media situation in Pakistan had been deteriorating since the present regime had taken over the public offices.
“The present situation is against Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, which allows every citizen to right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press”, they said.