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Tuesday Apr 21 2020

EU raises issue of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest with Pakistani authorities

Editor-in-Chief of the Jang Geo Media Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Photo: File

BRUSSELS: The European Union has raised the issue of the arrest of Editor-in-Chief Jang/Geo Media Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman with the Pakistani authorities in the context of broader discussions on democratic space, media freedom, and the situation of civil society, a spokesperson for the EU said on Monday.

EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Virginie Battu-Henriksson, in response to questions about the arrest of MSR, said that due process must be ensured in the case.

The comments from the EU spokesperson came after an accountability court on Saturday extended Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's physical remand by 10 days in a case pertaining to the purchase of a piece of land more than three decades ago from a private party.

The spokesperson said the European Union was firmly committed to supporting progress on human rights, democracy and the implementation of international conventions in Pakistan.

“These commitments also form a fundamental condition of the EU’s GSP+ trade preferences granted unilaterally to Pakistan,” she said, adding that media freedom has been highlighted as one area of particular concern.

Read also: Accountability court extends Jang/Geo editor-in-chief’s physical remand by 10 days

“In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, access to accurate and timely information and the freedom of the media is particularly important. The EU has also raised with the Pakistani authorities the particular vulnerability of prisoners due to their confinement and limited access to adequate healthcare,” Battu-Henriksson added.

The spokesperson added that during last GSP+ review, Federal Minister of Industry Razaq Dawood, Attorney-General of Pakistan Anwar Masood, and Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari had pledged to respect media freedom in Pakistan.

The member of European Parliament’s trade committee has been already raising concerns over the shrinking space for the media in Pakistan in recent months. Implementation of rights convention and deficiencies in this regards can cost Pakistan the GSP+ status, the spokesperson added. Moreover, it can also weaken Pakistan's Kashmir cause in Europe on rights grounds.

Arrest on trumped-up charges

MSR was arrested by NAB on March 12 on trumped-up charges relating to 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 and abuse of the NAB chairman's authority, as the arrest was made while the case was still in the process of verification.

Read also: Turkish journalists' body TGS demands immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman

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.

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.

However, the petitions challenging the arrests were turned down, prompting outrage from those who have been following the case.

MSR's arrest has been slammed both locally and internationally as an attempt to suppress dissent and the freedom of speech. Most recently, renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky had lent his support to a petition calling for MSR's release from arbitrary detention and his right to a fair trial.