Journalists continue hunger strike in Pakistan

Editor-in-Chief of Jang group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman arrested.

Editor-in-Chief of Jang group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman arrested.

A countrywide hunger strike by journalists was observed for a second consecutive day on April 11 in solidarity with Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief of Jang group. The media mogul was arrested on March 12 by Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), on charges pertaining to a 34-year-old property transaction.

Prominent voices in the media and opposition parties in parliament see this as an attempt to stifle press freedom in Pakistan by the government. However, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, denied these claims. Insisting that the NAB is an independent institution and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government under Prime Minister Imran Khan would not interfere with the actions of the autonomous body. He said, “the arrest was not an attack on media freedom.”

Many human rights and media groups around the world including ‘The Human Rights Watch’ and the ‘Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’ condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. “Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau should immediately release Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman and drop the obviously drummed-up case against him,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “This arrest over a 34-year-old land deal makes a mockery of Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy that upholds freedom of the press,” he added.

Senator Sherry Rehman told ‘The Hindu’ that the arrest is an open harassment of media. “First it was ‘Dawn’ and other assorted journalists, and now ‘The News’. This government just wants megaphones that sing its praises and nothing else on air. The message to the media and the Opposition is clear: don’t be telling any truth to power, we will dig up old cases and put the NAB on your trail.”

Demanding Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s immediate release, workers and journalists of Urdu newspaper ‘Jang’, ‘Geo’ and English daily, ‘The News’, gathered to protest outside the offices of Geo News in Islamabad. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Secretary General, Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari, along with fellow parliamentarians from the PPP visited the hunger strike camp to express solidarity with the workers. He said the PPP stands with the freedom of the press,” The arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is illegal and even violation of the NAB’s own law,” added Nayyer Bokhari.

Protests were also held in Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Bahawalpur.

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