The UN Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right of Freedom of Expression and Opinion, and the Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have sought an explanation from the government regarding the grounds on which Jang Geo Media Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shaikul Rahman was arrested and sought assurances that he will be given a fair trial.
In a letter to the Government of Pakistan, the officials have raised several questions relating to the arrest and continuing detention of the senior-most editor of the Jang Geo Media Group.
In the letter, which is addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the officials have also noted the seemingly arbitrary nature of the arrest of MSR, and the subsequent restrictions on freedom of expression imposed on the media in Pakistan.
“Mr. Shakil-ur-Rahman was not provided with or allowed any legal assistance before or immediately after his arrest. Mr. Shakil-ur-Rahman is currently detained by the NAB at its detention facility in Lahore,” notes the letter.
“It is reported that the arrest and detention of Mr. Shakil-ur-Rahman aims to restrict his freedom of expression, and that of the media group he owns,” it added.
The letter pointed out that the arrest comes in the background of limiting freedom of expression and media coverage of political life in the country. It mentioned how the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) reportedly directed cable operators to stop Geo TV’s transmission across the country and how in July 2019, a live interview with opposition leader and former President Asif Ali Zardari was interrupted after it went on air.
The UN officials said it is believed that MSR’s arrest may be due to the Jang Group’s criticism of NAB and the government’s political, economic and health policies.
“It is reported that the National Accountability Bureau had threatened over the past couple years reporters, producers, and editors over the media group’s coverage of the NAB and had threatened to use the country’s media regulator to shut down its broadcast channels,” reads the letter.
“For these reasons, it is reported that the arrest of Mr Shakil-ur-Rehman may be related to efforts by the NAB and its affiliates to prevent negative coverage of the NAB itself and of the Government’s political, economic and health policies, such as those aimed to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The UN officials expressed concerns that MSR’s arrest may be in “direct retaliation to the exercise of freedom of expression by Mr Shakil-ur-Rahman and the companies he owns”.
The letter raised five points relating to MSR’s arrest and urged the government to provide answers to them. These five observations are:
1. “Please provide any additional information and any comment you may have on the above-mentioned allegations [against the governmet].
2. Please provide detailed information on the legal grounds for the arrest and detention of Mr Shakil-ur-Rehman, including the reasons why the charges have been pressed 34 years after the alleged offense.
3. Please clarify why is Mr Shakil-ur-Rehman held in pre-trial detention and explain how these measures are compatible with international standards related to the right to liberty and security of the person and the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in articles 9 and 19 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
4. Please provide information on the steps taken by your Excellency’s Government to address widespread allegations of barriers and restrictions to freedom of expression by media.
5. Please provide information regarding what steps have been taken to ensure the media can enjoy its right to freedom of expression free from threats, harassment and intimidation of any sort.”
The UN officials requested the government to respond to it within 60 days, saying that their answers will be made public and forwarded in a report to the Human Rights Council.
“The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention may transmit the case through its regular procedure in order to render an opinion on whether the deprivation of liberty was arbitrary or not. Such letters in no way prejudge any opinion the Working Group may render. The Government is required to respond separately to the allegation letter and the regular procedure,” stated the letter.