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Mir Shakilur Rehman owns several Pakistani news outlets, including Geo News. (file photo)

Pakistani authorities on March 12 arrested the owner and editor in chief of the country's biggest independent group of newspapers and TV stations in connection with allegations of tax evasion in a real-estate purchase 34 years ago.

Mir Shakilur Rehman was taken into custody in the eastern city of Lahore, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) said without providing details.

Rehman's Jang Group of Newspapers, which includes Geo TV, has been critical of the government, including the activities of the NAB.

In a statement released by Geo TV, the media group said the property in question was purchased "from a private party," not a government entity, and "all evidence of this was given to the NAB and legal requirements fulfilled, such as duty and taxes."

"This is an attack on the freedom of expression," said Rana Jawad, Geo News's news director.

The statement said the arrest would not stop its editorial staff from covering "any story that is on merit and at the same will include" responses from the NAB to maintain reporting balance.

Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed a more forceful crackdown on journalists, human rights workers, activists, and members of civil society.

Before his election in 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan often said publicly he would have Rehman arrested if he came to power.

Based on reporting by AP and Geo TV
The protests were sparked by an amendment setting Russian President Vladimir Putin's previous presidential term count back to zero because of the other sweeping changes to the constitution. (file photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Police in St. Petersburg and several other Russian cities have detained activists during and ahead of protests against sweeping constitutional amendments that open the possibility for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power for another 16 years.

The March 12 demonstrations were held while local lawmakers discussed the amendments, a day after parliament's two chambers both overwhelmingly approved the changes.

In St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, an RFE/RL correspondent reported that police had detained two activists of the Peaceful Resistance group.

Dmitry Negodin and Yevgeny Musin rallied in front of the Legislative Assembly with posters urging local lawmakers to reject the amendments.

Two female protesters, Olga Smirnova and Marina Ken, were also detained.

Earlier, a coordinator with the opposition organization Open Russia, Sergei Kuzin, another member of the group, Larisa Kucherova, and municipal lawmaker Vasily Kunin, were held by police as they tried to leave their apartments.

In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, police detained the local leader of the opposition Yabloko party, Sergei Khorenzhenko, as well as activists Sergei Tiunov and Yelena Pary while they were protesting in the city center.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and arrests in Russia, said one activist, Sergei Ryabov, was detained in front of the Tula city parliament.

Two other protesters, Alik Shashayev and Azamat Shormanov, were detained in Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria, it said.

The protests were sparked by an amendment setting Putin's previous presidential term count back to zero because of the other sweeping changes to the constitution.

Putin's current term, his second consecutive six-year term, was slated to end in 2024. The previous rules forbade him from running for a third consecutive mandate, but that changes with the provisions of the amendments, meaning he can seek a fifth overall presidential term in 2024, and conceivably a sixth in 2030.

The constitutional changes now must be approved by at least two-thirds of regional parliaments and confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Final approval will come if more than half of the country's voters support it in an April 22 referendum.

Putin, a 67-year old former KGB officer, has ruled Russia as a president or prime minister for more than 20 years.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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