Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech. A free press is fundamental to a democratic society. It seeks out and circulates news, information, ideas, comment and opinion and holds those in authority to account. The press provides the platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.

A free press is guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan, but no right is truly guaranteed. The nation often receives less-than-stellar marks when it comes to protecting the press. A little shy of two weeks ago, one of the most influential media figures of Pakistan and the Editor-in-Chief of Jang-Geo Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested by NAB over a 34-year-old land transaction case. As a result, Geo News’ numbers were tampered on cable and shut down in some parts. Detaining Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is just another case of harassment against Pakistan’s beleaguered media. Here is a timeline of the events summarising the happenings.

5th March 2020

National Accountability Bureau summoned Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. He appeared before NAB to clarify that he had purchased the said piece of terrain from a private owner.

12th March 2020

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the Editor-in-Chief of the Jang Group that includes Pakistan's biggest newspapers and the Geo television network, over a 34-year-old property case dating back to 1986, accusing him of scoring illegal concessions in the purchase of plot in Block H, Johar Town Phase 2, Lahore.

13th March 2020

Immediately after Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan's press conference on the arrest of Editor-in-Chief of the Jang-Geo Group ended, cable operators were directed to shut down Geo TV's broadcast or shift the channel to the last numbers.

As a reaction to these directions, media bodies, politicians and civil society condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by NAB and termed it an attack on media and an attempt to silence any voice of dissent.

14th March 2020

The journalists and workers of the Jang-Geo Group showed solidarity with Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by condemning his arrest and initiating a protest movement till his release. People from Jang, Geo and The News gathered outside Geo’s office at I. I. Chundrigar Road and demanded the release of the Editor-in-Chief.

16th March 2020

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s wife, Shahina Shakil filed a petition in Lahore High Court, challenging his detention through Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, who is representing the Editor-in-Chief in the land transaction case.

As a result, the Lahore High Court granted Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman permission to meet his family, lawyers, and personal physician Dr Azmat. He was also allowed access to medicines and newspapers.

On the same day, a petition was also submitted in the Islamabad High Court against the closure of Geo News on cable and the relegation of the channel to lower numbers. IHC accepted the petition and the plea was called for hearing on 17th March.

This is a developing story.

Leaked controversial photo of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman from NAB lockup

On 13th March 2020, a controversial photo of the media mogul from the NAB lockup got leaked. Chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Javed Iqbal took notice of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s photograph taken behind bars and leaked out to the public. The Chairman ordered the Director General of NAB to look into the matter and conduct a thorough investigation and send in a report within seven days.

Excerpts from Jang News

The property in question was bought from a private party 34 years ago and all evidence of this was given to NAB including the legal requirements fulfilled like duty and taxes. On the day of arrest, a call up notice for the verification of complaints was sent, yet an arrest was made. IHC’s recent judgment against NAB’S violation of the country’s law and a violation of NAB’s own rules has been committed.

In the past 18 months, NAB has sent our reporters, producers and editors, directly and indirectly, over a dozen of threatening notices, threatening for a shutdown of our channels (via PEMRA) due to our reporting and our programmes about NAB. In its defense, NAB has in writing said that it is a constitutionally protected institution that can’t be criticised.

In this case, NAB denies all allegations above and claims they are independently pursuing all cases and have not been asked to do so by the democratically elected government in Islamabad.