Jang/Geo head refused to come under NAB pressure

ISLAMABAD: The spokesperson of Jang, Geo Group has spilled the beans about the arrest of Group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In a statement, he said that till two days ago, the Chairman of Jang/Geo Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, was under tremendous pressure to control and stop any kind of criticism against performance of NAB especially in Shahzaib Khanzada’s programme. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman flatly refused to interfere on the grounds that if he were to request anything from his journalists, they would get the impression as if their chairman was indeed involved in some criminal wrongdoing. He flatly refused to accommodate and said that we will continue to criticise the casual, discriminatory, whimsical and humiliating approach of NAB. However, the platforms of Jang and Geo were open for NAB to provide their version. The spokesperson said over the last few months, as pressure from NAB and Pemra was building against Jang/Geo Group, the management shared a number of extreme criticisms and admonishments of the superior courts of Pakistan against the misconduct and unprofessional approach of NAB.

Four months ago, NAB used Pemra to exert so much pressure on Jang/Geo to stop criticism of Bureau, that the Jang/Geo Group had to file a petition in the Honourable Lahore High Court at Lahore just to seek a direction or guidance to PEMRA that it should not treat NAB as a state institution as Bureau NAB was nothing but an investigating agency just like the FIA. In view of govt’s extreme unhappiness over criticism on the misconduct and unprofessional approach of NAB, Public Information Departments of the federal government and KP and Punjab governments illegally placed a complete ban on both Jang Group and Dawn, refusing to give any advertisements to them. Five days ago, Geo filed a petition in Honourable Lahore High Court at Lahore challenging this illegal discrimination being pursued by the federal government and Punjab and KP governments for banning Jang/Geo Group by not giving any advertisements to them. Unfortunately, this ban was pursued by the PTI government which, in its manifesto before elections, had expressly undertaken never to use as a tool to harass or reward independent media.

Against this backdrop, a call-up notice was issued to Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, by NAB office at Lahore to appear and explain “illegal allotment of land by LDA”. In response, the Group Chief appeared and explained to NAB officials that the impression that he obtained some plots from LDA was totally baseless and wrong. Mir Shakil explained to the NAB officials that in 1980, LDA had initiated a process of acquisition of land for development of Phase II – Johar Town, Lahore. In the area where the land was acquired, there also happened to be a piece of land measuring 188 kanals situated in Village Niaz Baig. That land belonged to private persons. Upon acquiring that land, LDA could either compensate the private owners of the land by giving them money or by giving them a plot in the scheme that it planned to develop. In this case, LDA wrote to the owners that it had decided to compensate them by giving them plots in Phase II – Johar Town as per its Exemption Policy.

It was at that time when from one of the land owners, the Group chief purchased, in front of and witnessed by the sub-registrar, the land at the cost of PKR 18 lacs. The was 1986, which is exactly 34 years from today. One could calculate the purchasing power by comparing the price of gold in 1986 and the one prevalent today. In 1986, PKR 18 lacs was equal to PKR 7 crores. This means that the Group chairman, through three registered documents, (a) Agreement to Sell, (b) Power of Attorney; and (c) Sale Deed, purchased the property from the owners and, under those registered documents, the owners confirmed to have received the full purchase price of PKR 18 lacs from Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. All this was witnessed by the sub-registrar who registered those three documents and who transferred the land in favour of Mir Shakil’s family.

This clearly shows that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman purchased the right to acquire the land in question from the private owners through three documents, each of which was registered before the sub-registrar who witnessed the receipt of purchase price of PKR 18 lacs by the owners. This leaves no doubt that the allegation that Mir Shakil was given the plots 34 years ago by LDA as some kind of a gift or favour is completely mischievous, false and baseless. After having acquired the plots, the Group chairman applied to LDA for development of the plots just like any other applicant.

The spokesperson said that it is clear from above that NAB and its chairman, while facing one admonishment after the other from the superior courts, and seeing fair criticism on Jang/Geo Group, desperately looked for, but could not find, any illegality committed by the Group’s Editor-in-Chief. The fact that they had to go back to a 34-year-old purchase of a private plot and build a false story just to humiliate, malign and teach Jang/Geo Group a lesson shows their malicious mindsets. Just last week, NAB officers were especially upset when Geo, in its programme, “Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Ke Saath”, questioned as to, if an inquiry can be conducted into the conduct of the judge who convicted Nawaz Sharif, why no inquiry was being conducted regarding the authenticity of the video recorded by a woman who was close to NAB chairman along with the serious allegation that she levelled against him. Even two days ago, a senior NAB official requested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman not to air that story regarding that woman on the Geo News. He flatly refused to oblige.

A divisional bench of Islamabad High Court has announced a detailed judgment in which it has seriously admonished the NAB chairman for abusing his statutory authority to issue warrants and for arresting people just to humiliate them. In the first hearing before NAB last week, the Jang/Geo Group chairman requested NAB officials to give him a questionnaire for him to reply. They refused the request. Then, he asked them to give a written explanation. They refused to accept that as well. In the end, he asked to at least verbally tell him what they wanted to ask. It was only then that the NAB officials dictated to him 13 questions that he noted down himself and they asked him to bring the answers on 12th March. The Group chairman told the NAB officials that he would spend the whole week in collecting all the relevant information and documents for preparing answers to their questions.

It was on Thursday morning that the Group chairman took with him all the NAB questions along with his answers along with all supporting documents to NAB’s office to explain everything that they required. In view of the above facts, the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by NAB has finally destroyed any credibility that may have been left in the accountability process in Pakistan. His arrest in such manner, and on the basis of such bogus allegations, is not only a stigma on NAB and the accountability process but it is demonstrative of PTI government’s intolerance for independent media in Pakistan. The Jang/Geo Group has gone through decades of persecution, intimidation, boycott and harassment and so this sad incident will not change Jang or Geo’s commitment to uphold the principles of independence of media in the country. We will continue to show power from military dictators to democratic ones, we have seen them all and we cannot be intimidated into looking away when the government harasses and threatens media and when NAB and its chairman are embarrassed, criticised, told off by Hon’ble Judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the spokesperson said.

He added that people may think that Thursday’s incident was a humiliation for our Group’s Chairman. Sadly, the fact is the other way around. While our prime minister is seeking to project an international image as an absolute democrat, by threatening and intimidating independent media, by placing curbs on distribution of advertisements on any media group that does not praise him all day long and by supervising and getting the chairman of Jang/Geo Group arrested, it is he, his government and Pakistan that have suffered in terms of their image.

The Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan has repeatedly called free media the fourth pillar of State. In this context, Thursday was a black day for democracy, independent media, rule of law and the right of the sovereign People of Pakistan to have access to their most favorite and credible source for information and views. The Group will be approaching superior courts for release of their chairman as the charges against him and the manner in which he has been arrested are unbelievably malicious, frivolous and false, the Jang/Geo spokesperson concluded.