Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Pakistan’s supreme court to order the immediate release of Jang media group owner Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, also known as MSR, who has been held on a spurious charge since March and whose release on bail has been refused twice by a court in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. The supreme court is due to hear his appeal against denial of bail next week.
Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman will complete his 240th day in a Lahore prison tomorrow because of a claim by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that a piece of land he acquired in 1986 was allocated to him by Punjab’s then chief minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, “in violation of the relevant laws and rules.”
At a hearing held before the NAB on 5 March, Rahman produced documents showing that the land was acquired in a perfectly legal manner from a private third party. He was nonetheless arrested on the basis of the same nebulous, 34-year-old accusation at a second hearing a week later, on 12 March.
Rahman’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqui, told RSF that the NAB was continuing to press the case against his client. After Siddiqui’s requests for Rahman’s release on bail were denied twice in Lahore, he appealed to the supreme court in Islamabad, which ruled on 3 November that it could hear the appeal. The hearing has been set for 9 November.
“We urge the supreme court’s judges to display good sense and independence by ordering Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s immediate release and dismissing the charges against him,” said Daniel Bastard.
“The judicial system has been manipulated in an outrageous manner in this case to make a media owner pay for his staff’s editorial freedom. It is time for Pakistan’s judiciary to demonstrate its autonomy by reaffirming the primacy of media freedom over governmental pressure.”
The Jang group, whose media outlets including The News, a leading daily newspaper, and the Geo TV network, has long been targeted by the authorities because its journalists don’t content themselves with reproducing the government’s anodyne statements and promises and because they dare to tackle stories that are supposed to be off limits.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.