Wednesday Mar 25, 2020
ISLAMABAD/LONDON: The arrest of the Editor-in-Chief of the Jang and Geo Media Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) earlier this month was widely condemned on Monday night as thousands of Twitter users demanded the release of the veteran journalist.
People from all walks of life took to the microblogging site to express their displeasure over the illegal detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Journalists, politicians, musicians, celebrities and thousands of social media users termed the arrest an attack on freedom of the press.
The campaign calling for the release of MSR on Twitter soon became one of the biggest trends in Pakistan, with over 58 million impressions and a total reach of over 15 million. The unprecedented numbers highlighted how Pakistanis had reacted to the arrest.
On Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Imran Khan had threatened to cancel an all-important press conference after journalist Irshad Bhatti asked for comments on the restrictions that have been placed on the media in Pakistan by the federal government.
Journalist Rauf Klasra underwent the same ordeal. During the presser, Klasra asked Khan to comment on the unprecedented restrictions on the media, but the premier refused to answer the question, instead claiming that the media in Pakistan was freer than the media in western democracies.
Pakistan Muslim League –Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif, in his press briefing on Tuesday, had also suggested that the prime minister utilize the media effectively for coping with the challenge of the coronavirus.
“As a measure of goodwill, the prime minister should release Geo/Jang group’s head Mir Shakilur Rehman on bail,” he said, adding that this gesture would bring positive results for the government’s fight against the epidemic as the number of confirmed cases of the virus rose.
Even members of the ruling PTI have criticised the government's handling of the media. At a public gathering, former information minister Fawad Chaudhry confessed that he did not agree with the government's policy of strangulating the media.
Music sensation Ali Zafar also tweeted out in support of Mir Shakil's release while replying to journalist Murtaza Ali Shah's tweet in support of MSR on Tuesday.
The Pakistani community in Japan, including prominent businessmen, human rights activists and members of the civil society, also held a protest on Tuesday against the illegal detention of MSR by the National Accountability Bureau.
"It seems like the dictator Musharaf's spirit has entered Imran Khan. Whoever criticises him is thrown into jail using NAB as a weapon," a protester claimed.
Najam Sethi, who is a prominent journalist, the Editor in Chief of The Friday Times, and a talk show host at Channel 24, also supported the campaign on Twitter.
Azhar Javaid, who presently serves as the London Bureau Chief for Dunya News, also condemned the illegal arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and reminded the honourable prime minister of the reality of press freedom in Pakistan.
"Dear Prime Minister, perhaps you have no idea about the level of press freedom in the UK. Here, no Prime Minister can jail journalists for fulfilling their personal vendettas, here they can't stop media houses if they don't like the coverage and here, the Prime Minister is answerable to the people through the media. There is still time. #FreeMSR," he tweeted.
Actor and producer Jamal Shah released a video message on Twitter in which he requested the Pakistani authorities combat the coronavirus effectively, while also mentioning the contributions of MSR for the freedom of the press in Pakistan.
"This country needs unselective accountability which is not possible without a free press. I demand that the gags on the press are lifted and Mir Shakil ur Rehman is released immediately," the veteran actor and producer said.
Prominent musician and social activist Shehzad Roy also expressed his displeasure over the state of media in Pakistan and MSR’s detention. “Extremely unreasonable and sad. He will be free soon,” he commented.
Seasoned journalist Murtaza Solangi also took to Twitter to signal his displeasure over the miscarriage of justice in Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's case. "Mir Shakil was arrested on trumped-up charges mainly aimed at muzzling media. The litmus test was pushing @geonews_urdu off the cable on the heels of his arrest. Keeping him behind bars without conviction is a miscarriage of justice. #FreeMirShakilurRehman #FreeMSR," he said.
Journalist and activist Shama Junjeo also expressed her concern at the illegal arrest of MSR.
On March 12, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had been arrested over a 34-year-old property transaction by NAB. Despite presenting evidence of the transaction, MSR was arrested by the accountability body in violation of court orders.
Various international organisations, including Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protest Journalists, BBC, The New York Times, the US State Department, as well as politicians across the world, have condemned the illegal detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.