Pakistani journalists and activists have staged protests in several cities to demand the owner and editor in chief of the country’s biggest independent media group is released from pretrial detention.
Mir Shakilur Rehman of the Jang group of newspapers and TV stations was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore on March 12 by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with allegations of tax evasion in a real-estate purchase 34 years ago.
The Jang group, which has been critical of the government and the activities of NAB, has rejected the allegations against Rehman and described his arrest as “an attack on the freedom of expression.”
Protesters holding banners and placards staged sit-ins on April 17 in Lahore, the capital Islamabad, the northwestern city of Peshawar, capping a week of rallies in cities across the South Asian nation of 220 million.
International human rights and media-freedom watchdogs have urged Pakistani authorities to release Rehman.
Daniel Bastard, the head of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Asia-Pacific desk, said on March 12 that Rehman’s arrest is “not based on anything legal, and is clearly harassment in order to bring the Jang group into line.”
The Pakistani authorities “have shown tremendous creativity in intimidating journalists who try to do their jobs independently,” Bastard said in a statement.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), on March 12 called Rehman’s detention “just the latest case of harassment against Pakistan’s beleaguered media.”
“The space for dissent in Pakistan is shrinking fast, and anyone who criticizes government actions can become a target,” Adams added.
Pakistan’s media operates in “a climate of fear,” the New York-based watchdog said, adding: “Media outlets are under pressure from authorities not to criticize the government.”
The statement also said that the NAB has been “widely criticized for being used for political purposes.”
Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.