The arrest of a leading Pakistani media mogul has sparked fears the government is trying to silence critical reporting in the country.
Mir Shakilur Rahman was arrested on March 12 over decades’ old allegations he illegally acquired government land. Rahman is the editor-in-chief of the Jang group, which owns several newspapers, and is the founder of the 24-hour news cycle network, Geo TV.
The day after Rahman’s arrest, Pakistan’s electronic media regulatory authority ordered cable operators across the country to stop transmitting Geo TV, or otherwise move it to a higher channel making it harder for viewers to find, the Committee to Project Journalists reported, citing news reports. No reason was provided for the order.
Rahman’s media group has long been critical of Prime Minister Imran Khan and numerous state institutions.
International rights organizations have spoken out against the arrest.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for Rehman’s immediate release, labeling the charges against him “spurious.”
“Let’s not be fooled, Shakilur Rahman’s arrest has no legal basis and is clearly an act of harassment designed to bring the Jang media group into line,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific group. “We call for his immediate release. The Pakistani authorities are displaying appalling creativity in their attempts to intimidate journalists who try to work in a completely independent manner.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Pakistan’s media “operates in a climate of fear,” adding news outlets “are under pressure from authorities not to criticize the government.”
“The space for dissent in Pakistan is shrinking fast, and anyone who criticizes government actions can become a target,” said Brad Adams Asia director at HRW. “Detaining Mir Shakilur Rehman is just the latest case of harassment against Pakistan’s beleaguered media.”
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) tasked with tackling corruption, charges that Rehman illegally leased land from the government in 1986 with the blessing of then chief minister of Punjab (and later prime minister) Nawaz Sharif. The bureau alleges Rahman would later have ownership of that land transferred to him illegally.
“This is not the first time that the NAB has revived this 34-year-old allegation and, at an earlier hearing on March 5, Rahman already produced all the documents showing that the land was bought in a perfectly legal manner from a private third party,” RSF said.
Rehman for his part has denied the allegations.