Human rights and media freedom watchdogs are urging Pakistan to release from pretrial detention the owner and editor-in-chief of the country’s biggest independent media group.
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.
Jang group, which has been critical of the government and the activities of NAB, rejected the allegations against Rehman and described his arrest as “an attack on the freedom of expression."
Daniel Bastard, the head of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Asia-Pacific desk, said 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), 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 operate 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.