Tuesday Apr 28, 2020
LAHORE: An accountability court in Lahore on Tuesday sent Editor-in-Chief of the Jang/Geo Media Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman to jail on judicial remand till May 12.
MSR had appeared before the accountability court after the expiry of his physical remand.
On April 18, the court had extended the physical remand of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for 10 days in a private property case. The veteran journalist had appeared before the accountability court after his earlier remand expired.
During the hearing, the special prosecutor for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had requested the court to extend MSR’s remand by 15 days. MSR’s counsel, Amjad Pervez, received the copy of the remand extension request on short notice, the court briefly adjourned the hearing to allow him to prepare.
After the hearing resumed, the NAB prosecutor told the court that the accountability bureau had summoned different records concerning MSR. “There are certain SOPs regarding procuring documents from government departments,’ he said. “As we keep getting the documents, we will keep proceeding with the investigation.”
“We have requested some more documents from LDA,” he added. To this, MSR's counsel reminded the court that international media was following what was happening to the senior-most editor of Pakistan's largest media group.
He firmly opposed NAB’s request to extend his client’s physical remand. “NAB is wasting the court’s time. MSR has met all NAB officers till now and the investigation is complete,” he argued.
"All his [MSR's] records have been with the investigating officer from day one," Pervez told the court. “At this stage, NAB does not need to extend his physical remand,” Pervez insisted.
“The accountability bureau is making excuses about the lockdown to mislead the court," the counsel argued. "MSR has cooperated with NAB with whatever they have asked."
“People do not normally turn up at NAB after receiving a call-up notice, but Mir Shakil-ur-Rehaman did. The [Jang/Geo Media Group] has never run anything against the court.”
“If something like that were to happen, I would be the first to surrender to the court,” Pervez said. After hearing arguments from both sides, the court initially reserved its judgment before granting NAB 10 more days of custody.
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.
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 by a heavy-handed regime 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.