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Thursday Apr 02 2020

LHC petition: Ahsan completes arguments against MSR's arrest, extension in remand


LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday resumed hearing a petition against the arrest of Jang Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, with the latter's counsel, Aitezaz Ahsan, completing his arguments in relation to the ongoing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigation of a 34-year-old property case against his client.

A two-member bench of the court has been hearing the petition, which pertains to the arrest and extension in remand of Pakistan's largest media group’s most senior editor.

During his arguments, Barrister Ahsan told the LHC that his client's arrest was made prematurely.

“The arrest came at the inquiry phase of the complaint [against my client], which is illegal,” argued the lawyer.

He said that the entire case could be resolved with the relevant documents and that all records are present with the Lahore Development Authority.

“[Instead,] for 20 years, NAB did nothing," Ahsan noted. 

"This case [also] does not fall under NAB’s jurisdiction,” Ahsan further argued.

Ahsan further pleaded that his client is of old age and should be released on bail.

In relation to the court’s previous orders, Special Prosecutor Syed Faisal Raza Bukhari submitted NAB's response to the LHC's questions.

The court subsequently ordered NAB to submit fresh responses and adjourned the hearing until April 7.  

Meanwhile, MSR is in transit remand after he was allowed to travel to Karachi to make arrangements for the burial of his elder brother and publisher of the Jang Group, Mir Javed ur Rahman, who passed away on Tuesday after battling lung cancer.

NAB had earlier said MSR would be allowed to visit his brother while he was critically ill, but the allowance took too long to materialise and the meeting could never take place. 

The transit remand was eventually approved after Mir Javed ur Rahman's passing.

Arrest on trumped-up charges

MSR had been arrested by NAB earlier this month on trumped up charges relating to a property purchased more than three decades ago. A petition was filed shortly afterwards against the arrest. 

An accountability court had then extended his physical remand, after which a separate petition was filed against the extension. The petition had argued that no reason was provided by the court for the extension in remand. 

The original petition, filed by MSR’s wife Shahina Shakil, had stated that MSR had been cooperating with officials and the arrest was a flagrant violation of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the accountability watchdog.

The petition had requested that the court declare the arrest an abuse of the NAB chairman's authority, as the arrest was made while the case was still in the process of verification.

Related: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's arrest: LHC directs NAB to submit new response

The petition further argued that NAB had violated the 2019 businessmen policy introduced by the Government of Pakistan by arresting MSR.

It further said that the extension in remand of MSR by the accountability court hearing the case should be declared null and void, along with the decision to arrest him.

NAB had on March 12 arrested MSR in connection with property allegedly bought illegally from a government entity more than three decades ago.

According to a Jang Group spokesperson, the property was in fact bought from a private party 34 years ago and all evidence of this was given to NAB and legal requirements fulfilled, such as duty and taxes.

MSR's arrest has been slammed both locally and internationally as the latest attempt by a heavy-handed regime to suppress dissent. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story had erroneously stated that NAB had not provided a questionnaire to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in relation to its inquiry regarding the private property case. The error is regretted.