Editorial | Mir Shakilur Rehman’s Arrest Reeks Of Intimidation, Harassment
National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday arrested JANG/Geo group CEO Mir Shakilur Rahman on his second appearance in Lahore on a 34-year-old transaction in a private land deal. It appears to be an attempt to muzzle and browbeat media houses to total subordination. This is not the first attempt to subdue media. Under PM Imran Khan’s watch, Pakistan has witnessed various attacks on the media, and many voices of dissent have been suppressed.
The arrest of Mir Shakilur Rehman is more than meets the eye. The Jang/Geo group fell apart with the ruling party much earlier than the last elections. But there was a time when the group had warm relations with the PTI. It played an important and positive role in the image building of the PTI and its leader Imran Khan till 2013 elections. After losing elections to PML-N, the party took a tough position against the group and Imran Khan is on record stating that he will ensure that Mir Shakeel and its group are punished when he comes to power.
During the 2014 dharna, Imran Khan and other PTI leaders constantly blasted the media group. For a long spell the party boycotted Geo News, the news and current affairs channel of the group. On Thursday, Sheikh Rasheed, the sitting federal minister admitted in an interview that Prime Minister Imran Khan was unhappy with the group.
The recent spat started when the channel consistently took a position against the government’s so-called accountability drive which saw several opposition leaders being jailed on corruption charges. The government’s ‘accountability drive’ has been termed as witch-hunt by several quarters.
Moreover, the selective action by the NAB has been criticised thoroughly during the programs aired by the group. Shahzeb Khanzada, the leading anchor of the channel in his flagship programs, has consistently exposed the actions of the NAB and linked them with the pressure tactics of the NAB and the Imran Khan government.
On February 28, the NAB pulled a 34 year old case of property transaction between a private party and Mir Shakil on the complaint of a person who works for the network ignominious for a scandal involving fake degrees.
On March 5, Mir Shakeel who lives abroad came back to Lahore to visit the NAB office and while the complaint was still in Complaint Verification stage, he was arrested on Thursday afternoon.
The arrest of the media mogul has been widely criticised by journalists, media houses, human rights organisations and press bodies. Pakistan is already at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to media freedoms. The arrest of Mir Shakil will embolden the perception in Pakistan and abroad that media under Imran Khan’s watch is being suppressed.