Journalists slam draconian laws used to imprison MSR

LONDON: Senior journalists Hamid Mir and Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami have said that the arrest of Geo and Jang Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a 34 years old case by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is a demonstration of how draconian laws are being used to punish the people the government doesn’t like to bring media under control using completely unethical means.

Both Hamid Mir and Mr Shami were speaking as guests online of Overseas Pakistani Journalists Action Committee (OPJAC) which has members from UK, Europe and North America.

Addressing the journalists’ body on Zoom conferencing, senior journalist Hamid Mir voiced his concerns over how both Pakistan and India were becoming less tolerant of objective journalism and had both fallen in the latest Press Freedom Index.

Hamid Mir discussed how India was taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown and increased its propaganda and hostilities in Kashmir. “India is inciting violence against Pakistan in a mechanised way. While the world is focused on fighting COVID-19, India is using terror groups to destablise Pakistan by attacking Pakistan security forces, recent attacks in Balochistan are a proof. In occupied Kashmir, India has silenced media to further suppress Kashmiris demanding freedom,” he said.

Hamid Mir said that regional dynamics would also impact press freedom in Pakistan but he raised concern over how some individual journalists including him were targeted over the years on false grounds.

Talking about the recent controversy over Maulana Tariq Jamil’s comments, Hamid Mir said that it was unfortunate that a social media campaign was orchestrated against him, Kamran Shahid, Muhammad Malick, Javed Chaudhry and others even though he did not even ask Tariq Jamil to apologise. “I never asked Maulana Tariq Jamil to apologise but a false campaign was started making allegations,” he said.

When asked whether the government should make legislation against such harassment, Hamid Mir advised against it explaining that such legislation would instead be used as a sword against journalists who wanted to continue objective reporting and instead advised journalists to use the courts to seek justice.

The issue of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Cheif’s imprisonment was also discussed with both Hamid Mir and Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami condemning it as an attack on press freedom in Pakistan.

Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami explained how he had also been a victim of false cases in the past and strongly condemned the illegal detention of Mir Shakeel-ur-Rahman. He mentioned how the case seemed to be mala fide considering that it was almost 40 years old and how no case had been brought against MSR even after more than 60 days of detention. He said there was unanimity of opinion that there is no case against MSR and that he’s being punished to satisfy the egos of a few powerful people who are in incharge and can do what they like.

Shami said that he had seen different phases of media and the challenges it faced but the challenges confronted currently are unique. He said the current government is responsible for enforcing a financial crackdown on media to cut it to size but at the same time the whole country is suffering as a result of the economic meltdown. He said the crises will further increase in coming days.

The Overseas Pakistani Journalists Action Committee is an independent body of journalists formed with journalists from multiple media organisations to address the concerns of journalists. The committee demanded that the government should announce a financial package for media workers as it had done for other industries.

Newspaper: The News