A human rights advocacy group has called on the Pakistani government to “drop politically motivated charges and release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, an editor with Pakistan’s largest media group” who has been in detention for over a 100 days now.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement has demanded that “the authorities also stop harassing Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s family members”.
The group observed that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, 63, has been in pretrial custody for nearly four months.
“On March 12, 2020, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption watchdog that has been implicated in serious abuses, arrested [Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman] on charges relating to a 34-year-old property transaction. Rahman had requested bail on the grounds that he was in ill-health and posed no flight risk, but on July 8, the Lahore High Court denied him bail,” read the statement.
It noted that the next day, the court heard a NAB petition “seeking the arrest of his wife and four children concerning the same property transaction”. “In 1986, at the time of the property transaction, Rehman’s children were ages 8, 6, 4, and 1,” said the New York-based human right body.
“Seeking the children’s arrest for alleged acts when they were hardly more than toddlers shows how ludicrous the case against him is,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said.
“Pakistani authorities should stop using vague and overbroad anti-corruption laws against dissenting voices,” he said.
The statement further noted that Pakistan’s media “operates in a climate of fear”.
“Media outlets are under pressure from the authorities not to criticize the government. The Jang Group alleges that, over the past two years, NAB has sent more than a dozen threatening letters to its reporters, editors, and producers for reporting that has been critical of the bureau,” said HRW.
It also noted the latest in the series of curbs placed on the media — the suspension of the license of television channel 24NewsHD by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on July 3 with “immediate effect” for “noncompliance with its terms of license.”
“On July 7, the Lahore High Court suspended PEMRA’S notification and temporarily allowed the channel to resume transmission,” it said, before highlighting: “In some cases, regulatory agencies have blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that aired critical programmes.”
The statement went on to observe that NAB “has been widely criticised for being used for political purposes”.
“The Pakistani government should cease using the National Accountability Bureau to target journalists, opposition politicians, and outspoken critics,” Adams said.
“As a first step, the government should repeal the draconian dictatorship-era laws that have shrunk basic free expression rights,” he added.