Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Amal Clooney’s law firm files appeal at UN against MSR’s 'arbitrary arrest' by NAB

Firm says MSR's arrest part of wider pattern of 'weaponsing NAB procedures to shut down critics of the government'

LEFT: Jang Geo Media Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Geo.tv/Files; RIGHT: Barrister Amal Clooney and her husband, actor George Clooney, in Los Angeles, California, US, June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

LONDON: Barrister Amal Clooney’s law firm, Doughty Street Chambers, has filed a complaint at the United Nations (UN) against the "politically-motivated and arbitrary arrest" of Jang Geo Media Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The firm, known for its work on international human rights issues, announced on Monday that an urgent appeal has been lodged on MSR's behalf with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and a second appeal made to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Doughty Street Chambers confirmed that these urgent appeals call on the UN experts to act and ensure that the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government and NAB comply with their obligations under international law and that MSR be released immediately.

“Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested on March 12 by NAB in Pakistan in a case concerning a property transaction that dates back 34 years to 1986. He has been imprisoned since, in unsafe and unhygienic conditions and without meaningful and regular access to his lawyers. Jang Media Group owns Geo TV as well as some of Pakistan’s largest newspapers,” said the firm.

It noted that MSR's arrest and detention comes following many attacks upon and targeting of him, Jang Media Group and its journalists, by Imran Khan’s government and NAB and amid a deteriorating climate for media freedom in Pakistan.

Commenting on the arrest, a Jang Group spokesperson said: “In the past 18 months, NAB sent our reporters, producers and editors, directly and indirectly, over a dozen notices, threatening shutdown of our channels, due to the Group's reporting and its programmes about NAB. In its defence, NAB has in writing said that it is a constitutionally-protected institution that can’t be criticised.”

The international counsel team for MSR, comprising Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Tatyana Eatwell and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, London, said: “Mr Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest and imprisonment — on spurious charges dating from transactions in 1986, over three decades ago — raise grave concerns.

"This not only violates our client’s rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and a fair trial, but this is part of a wider pattern. This is a targeted and concerted attack upon our client’s freedom of expression rights and freedom of the media in Pakistan, weaponising NAB procedures to shut down critics of the Government. 

"His detention is arbitrary and the authorities in Pakistan must comply with their international law obligations and release him forthwith.”

Simon Spanswick, Chief Executive of the Association for International Broadcasting (AIB), added: “The Association for International Broadcasting and its Members are deeply concerned that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the head of one of Pakistan’s major media groups, has been detained in contravention of both Pakistan and international law.

"Due process appears not to have been followed in this case and we call on the Pakistan authorities to immediately release him. We are further concerned that the Pakistan government has for the past two years been attempting to restrict access to Geo TV channels across the country, in contravention of the channels’ licences and carriage agreements. This is a blatant attempt to reduce freedom in Pakistan that this association deplores.”

The appeals have been filed with the United Nation (UN) as Pakistan is one of the nations that has signed agreements as part of UN to follow human rights laws and is under the obligation to follow them.

Amal Clooney is known for being a vocal voice on the conditions in Gaza and the civilian casualties in the region. She was earlier hired by the Maldives to represent it at the UN’s highest court in seeking justice for Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

The Maldives had said it would formally join the mainly Muslim African state of The Gambia, by hiring Clooney to represent it, in challenging Myanmar's 2017 military crackdown that sent around 740,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.

She was appointed as the UK’s Special Envoy for Media Freedom in 2019. According to the British government's website, she helped convene "a panel of legal experts that will issue recommendations on legal and policy initiatives that states can adopt to improve media freedom" and serves as its deputy chair.

Clooney has been very vocal on the freedom of the media as she has previously called out US President Donald Trump. Last year, she joined the legal team representing two Reuters reporters who were jailed in Myanmar for reporting on the treatment of Rohingya Muslims.