Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest: Journalists continue countrywide protests

ISLAMABAD: The workers of the Geo and Jang Group while condemning the arrest of Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman have announced to initiate a protest movement till his release.

The workers of the Jang Group also formed an action committee comprising representatives from Geo News, Jang and The News which will be headed by President Jang Workers Union Nasir Chishti to formulate the protest movement strategy.

The workers of Geo and Jang Group gathered at the Geo office to express their solidarity with the Editor-in-Chief here on Saturday and reiterated their resolve to continue their struggle for the freedom of media and release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Secretary General Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) Nasir Zaidi said the workers of the Jang Group were fighting for the freedom of media and their constitutional right of freedom of expression. “We have faced the military dictatorships and civilian dictatorship for the freedom of media,” he said.

Nasir Zaidi said if the workers of Jang stood up then not only Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman will be released but also the media will also be free. He said the workers’ rights are must and two things must be clear that the management should also make commitment that there will no retrenchment of the workers from the Jang Group.

He said the workers believe that they are only because of their institution (Jang Group) and now it faced hardship but the workers will stand with the Jang group.

Renowned anchorperson of Geo News Hamid Mir said that Special Assistant to PM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in press conference the other day tried to give impression that this is not issue of freedom of media but of owner and immediately after her press conference the cabal operators were directed either to close the Geo News or shift it to the last numbers. “The shifting of Geo News from its original position was sufficient to prove that the government only aims to supress the voice of free media,” he said.

He said in 1998 efforts were made to close Jang and even it printed on one page, then in Musharraf regime efforts were made for the closure of Geo, in 2009 in PPP government Geo was shifted into last numbers and same things were also done during the tenure of the PML-N government and now same things were being repeated. As Pemra has closed Geo in some places and shifted it on last numbers.

Hamid Mir said the media has struggled for its freedom and will continue this struggle. He said previously competitor channels were not raising voice when the other channels were facing difficulties, but now the workers of all the channels were united and even now ARY anchor Arshad Sharif condemned the incident and even Chief Executive of the ARY also condemned the leak of picture of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in NAB custody.

He said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was a loss for the workers as the workers have a forum of negotiations if they did not salary which not possible in the absence of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman.

Ex-president PFUJ Afzal Butt said if all the workers of the Jang Group stood then no one have courage to close Jang Group.

“The Action Committee of the Jang workers will be formed that would decide the future line of action,” he said.

President Jang Worker union Nasir Chishti said the workers were united to lodge their strong protest on the arrest of Editor-in-Chief of Geo and Jang Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman and will not only close the roads but also will give arrests.

Resident Editor Jang Rawalpindi Hanif Khalid appealed that the prime minister and his government and others must play their role in the release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. He questioned that what kind of justice it was that a person was summoned to reply questions and arrested and confiscated the mobile phone and documents. He announced that the no more retrenchment of the Jang workers would be made.

Editor The News Rawalpindi/Islamabad Aamir Ghouri said that the struggle will continued for the freedom of media with all the journalist community.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Pakistan authorities should immediately lift restrictions placed on Geo News and allow it to broadcast freely.

It said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) contacted cable distributers throughout the country and ordered them to stop transmitting Geo TV, or else switch its broadcasts to a higher channel that is harder for viewers to find.

“The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority must immediately reverse its orders and allow cable distributors to restore the regular transmission of Geo News,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Pakistani authorities need to learn that critical coverage by the media is a key and welcome component of democracy, not something to be suppressed.”

The CPJ emailed Pemra for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

The Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) strongly condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In a statement, it said that Jang Group is one of the oldest and largest media houses in the country. It said that arresting the editor-in-chief of a media house, while the case is still in complaint verification phase and on a call up notice, appears to be an attempt of harassment for the media group’s editorial policy as also claimed by the group and such arrest are against the judgments of the superior courts.

The PAS urged the government and opposition parties to look into the matter immediately to ensure that it is not an attempt by elements in NAB to muzzle the criticism by the media group against them.

The Patron in-Chief of Supreme Shia Ulama Board and Head of Tehreek-e-Nifaz Fiqah-e-Jafariya Agha Syed Hamid Ali Shah Moosavi said that the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the NAB is a contempt of journalism that could harm the NAB as well as the government’s repute.

“Therefore, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman must be urgently released to ensure justice and fair play,” he noted.

He maintained that freedom of media and expression was critically important while suppressing journalism was a death for democracy.

The JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman condemned the arrest of Jang Group Editor-in-Chief and said the ‘selected government’ had resorted to such tactics to hide its incompetence.

He made these remarks while talking to a party delegation led by JUI-F Mardan chapter secretary information Maulana Qaiseruddin in Islamabad. Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the NAB was being used to silence the media. However, he added that the opposition parties would soon come up with a strategy to counter such steps of the government. The Maulana said that the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was an attack on the press freedom, which has exposed the real face of Imran Khan. He said the arrest of Mir Shakil was a warning for all the media houses that whoever criticised this incompetent government would meet the same fate.

Protests were also held by journalists in different parts of Punjab, Sindh and KP.

In Lahore, Jang/Geo Group workers, members of civil society and people from different walks of life staging a peaceful demonstration on the Davis Road here on Saturday protested against the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and demanded his immediate release.

Despite a large number of workers from the Geo News, The News, Jang and Awaz newspapers and people from different walks of life taking part in the demo, the traffic flow remained uninterrupted on Davis Road and other adjacent areas. The participants carrying banners and placards chanted slogans and condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and termed it an attack on press freedom in Pakistan. They expressed concerns over shifting of the Geo News to last numbers of cable and shutting down its broadcast in various cities after the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. They linked it to a conspiracy to silence media in Pakistan.

They observed that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) instead of ensuring true accountability is busy with victimization. They said after the leakage of a video, there is no justification for the NAB chairman to hold his position. So he should immediately be removed and held accountable.

Addressing the demonstrators, senior journalist Sohail Warraich termed the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and curbs on media an attack on media freedom in Pakistan. He said after the leakage of the video, the NAB chairman does not have any moral ground to remain on his seat and demanded his accountability at the earliest by those at the helm.

Baidar Bakht said Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was arrested under a plan in a 34 years old fake property case. He condemned the arrest and demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Rais Ansari said the government wants to shut down media in Pakistan and added that Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman’s arrest and subsequent action against the Geo News transmission were in fact attacks on independent media in Pakistan. He said journalists would have to fight this war for their survival and to safeguard the media industry in the country.

Maqsood Butt said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is in fact the arrest of all workers of the Jang/Geo Group and therefore every worker of the organization is standing with Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Khalid Farooqi said every worker of the Jang/Geo Group is ready to fight this war for the true freedom of media in the country.

Arshad Ansari, president of the Lahore Press Club, said the arrest of the Jang/Geo Group editor-in-chief is part of NAB-Niazi nexus.

After recording their protest in a peaceful manner, the demonstrators dispersed raising slogans such as “Geo Ko Jeenay Do” and “Economic Murder of Journalists is Unacceptable”.

In Jhang, office-bearers of the press clubs and different journalist unions on Saturday condemned the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In different statements, the journalists’ bodies functioning in all tehsils of the district termed the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman an attack on media/press freedom. They said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was detained in a case filed 34 years ago. Jhang Union of Journalists former general secretary Riaz Naul and others condemned the arrest of the Geo/Jang. They demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Bahawalpur, scores of journalists, including office-bearers of the Bahawalpur Press Club, office-bearers of the Bahawalpur Union of Journalists (Burna Group), the Bahawalpur Union of Journalists (Dastoori Group) and representatives of other journalists’ forum staged demonstrations against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. The protesting journalists raised slogans for the immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

The protesters took out a rally from press club to University Chowk to condemn the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. The rally was addressed by Muhammad Ameen Abbasi, Bahawalpur Press Club president Naseer Ahmad Nasir and others.

In Nankana Sahib, former federal minister Ch Barjees Tahir strongly condemned the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief. While talking to journalists, he said that democracy was incomplete till the independence of media. He said that PML-N had decided to move to the Supreme Court against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Gujranwala, a rally was taken out against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. The journalists gathered outside the press club and demanded justice from the courts. Bureau Chief of The News Muhammad Azam Butt also condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Pakpattan, the PML-N district president Khan Imtiaz Ali Khan and others flayed the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief by the NAB in Lahore. They demanded his immediate release.

In Hafizabad, journalists staged a demonstration against the arrest of Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief. The protesters gathered outside the press club and chanted slogans in support of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Rahimyar Khan, different media, social and political organisations on protested against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

They chanted slogans against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and demanded his immediate release.

In Karachi, the Press Club President Imtiaz Khan Faran said the autocratic policies of the government to muzzle the media have been further highlighted with the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and the blanket ban on the transmission of the Geo News across the country.

Faran was speaking at a protest demonstration held outside the Jang-Geo offices in Karachi by the journalist community against the federal government’s actions through the NAB and Pemra. Besides journalists, political personalities and trade unionists also joined the protest. Faran said with this action, Prime Minister Imran Khan has betrayed the same media which helped him to come to the power. He added that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the coalition allies of the government are responsible for the crisis in the media industry which has rendered many journalists jobless, slashed and withheld their salaries. He said that the KPC stood with the journalist community and will not let anyone stab media in the back. He added that the government’s design to gag the media can no more remain hidden behind any facade after Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested prematurely without due investigations and the cable operators were threatened to either shut down the Geo News or push it on the last numbers.

The President of Karachi Union of Journalists (Dastoor), Tariq Abul Hasan, said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest was condemned across the world because it was not an attack on a person alone but an attempt to gag the media and the collective voice of the 22 million people of Pakistan. He added that former dictator Pervez Musharraf had also tried the same but he terribly failed despite all his power. He said similarly Khan will also not succeed in his agenda because the journalists will fight back.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that the ‘Azadi Street’ where the demonstration was held, had a history of hosting demonstrations for media liberties and the struggle for media workers. He said that the PTI government’s crackdown is a repetition of the actions of the dictatorial regime of 2007 which had similarly banned Geo News. Lamenting on the divide in the media ranks, Abbas said it is pity that the Jang-Geo group has to struggle alone against the draconian curbs since no other channel was standing by with the Geo TV in this struggle for the freedom of the independent media. Referring to the PTI government’s so-called accountability process, Abbas said that the rulers pledged indiscriminate accountability, while their actions prove discriminatory which brings their own credibility to question. He added that the journalist fraternity would continue its strong opposition against media crackdown and on Monday a country-wide protests will be taken out.

The Karachi Bureau Chief of the Geo News Fahim Siddiqui said that due to vindictive nature of the incompetent rulers, the Azadi Street was buzzing with activities again like it did during the Gen Musharraf’s dictatorial regime. He said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested because he did not succumb to the pressure from the different quarters nor did he compromise on his principles.

President of Jang Employees Union Rafiq Bashir said that Imran Khan in a speech had declared his plan to arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and he has now implemented that. He said that the government has failed to understand that such coercive actions will not harm Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman but the whole nation.

In Peshawar, the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) and members of the Peshawar Press Club (PPC) took out a rally against the arrest and asked the government to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and restore the Geo News transmission on its previous numbers.

Led by the PPC president, Syed Bukhar Shah and KhUJ former president Arshad Aziz Malik, the protesters were carrying banners and placards inscribed with slogans against the government and illegal action of the NAB.

They marched on the road outside Peshawar Press Club and chanted slogans to demand release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and restoration of Geo News programmes. Besides the journalists, members of civil society, and the JUI-F secretary information, Abdul Jalil Jan, PML-N Ikhtiar Wali, Syed Wali Shah Afridi, secretary information, QWP Tariq Khan and others also participated in the protest rally.

The protesters vowed that they would not to accept the dictatorial policies and illegal actions of the government. Speaking on the occasion, President PPC Syed Bukhar Shah criticised the government for arresting Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman without fulfilling legal formalities in a 34 years old property case. He recalled that such tactics had been applied in the past against The News and Geo only to stop free media from performing its duty. He said the journalists had always rendered sacrifices for the independence of media and would do so in future. He asked the government to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman forthwith.

Arshad Aziz Malik said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested in a private property case purchased many years ago only to pressurise the The News and Geo to toe the government line. He said the Jang Group had been reporting truth, which was not acceptable to the government and rulers. He asked the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of the illegal action of the NAB and government.

The JUI-F’s Abdul Jalil Jan condemned the arrest and said that the price-hike, unemployment and lawlessness had made the lives of people miserable but the government was trying to gag voice of journalists.

Terming the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman as a warning to others media workers and groups, he said that the rulers wanted the media to follow their dictates.

The QWP’s Tariq Khan termed arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman a shameful act and an effort to strangulate voice of independent media.

In Swabi, journalists as well as activists of PML-N, JUI-F and JI staged a protest demonstration against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Carrying placards inscribed with different slogans against curbs on media and against the arrest of Geo Group Editor-in-Chief, the journalists and leaders of the parties gathered at Karnal Sher Khan Chowk. Speaking on the occasion, the leaders asked the government to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman forthwith.

In Nowshera, local journalists along with leaders of different parties including JUI-F, PML-N, ANP, JI, QWP, traders, newspapers hawkers and civil society members condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

The protesters started march from the Nowshera Press Club and gathered at Shobra Chowk on Grand Trunk Road. The journalists and leaders asked the government to mend its ways as free media was not its enemy. They appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the illegal action of NAB and order release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

In Hangu, journalists belonging to unions of the Orakzai and Hangu press clubs staged protest rallies and sit-ins against the arrest and termed it an attack on the independent press.

The media persons staged a protest meeting at the main chowk in Hangu bazaar and chanted slogans against the government for its anti-journalism policies. The protesting journalists said that the NAB had crossed all limits of decency and ignored legal course to harass respectable people of the society in a bid to appease the rulers.

Journalists of Bannu Press Club in their protest also condemned the NAB for the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a private property case prior to the completion of an inquiry. Muhammad Alam Khan, Ajmal Qamar, Adil Manan and others said that the day of the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman would be remembered as one of the darkest days in the country’s journalism history. They termed the arrest a brazen attack on the free press and sane voices and demanded his release forthwith.

In Takht Bhai, staging a protest rally against arrest of the Jang and Geo editor-in-chief, the journalists of Shergarh Press Club vowed that they would not accept any restrictions on the free media. Leading the rally, press club president Bakhtullah Jan Hasrat said that it was regrettable that the independent media organisations were being muzzled to silence them in one way or the other.

In Chakdara, local politicians, traders and members of civil society also joined the protest of journalists staged against the arrest. Pakistan People’s Party leader and former minister Bakht Baidar Khan, Amanullah Khan, Adinzai Qaumi Jirga chief Khurshid Ali Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Amir Sltanat advocate, traders’ leader Khawaj Faizul Ghafoor, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Sartaj Khan, senior journalist Syed Zafar Ali Shah and others condemned the arrest of editor-in-chief of the News and Geo News and demanded his unconditional release.

In Mingora, the journalists of Swat Press Club also staged a rally and announced a three-day mourning against the arrest. They chanted slogans against the government and NAB and asked them to stop harassing free media organisations. Press club ex-chairman Syed Shahabuddin, chairman Sherinzada, general secretary Salim Athar, electronic media president Niaz Ahmad spoke on the occasion and demanded immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Protest rallies also held in Kohat, Chitral, Bajaur, Mohmand Upper Dir Lower Dir, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan North Waziristan and South Waziristan, Mardan, Kohistan, Battagram.