While NAB has started prosecution against the Jang Group editor-in-chief Mir Shakil ur Rehman; the opposition parties have joined hands to support the Jang Group against the government actions. They have called it as a crackdown against Geo TV. Opposition parties’ alliance including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) already filed a joint petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) regarding the matter. Former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PML – N Ahsan Iqbal and some lawmakers of the JUI-F and JI signed the petition.
The petition filed through Barrister Zafarullah Khan has cited as respondents the secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). It has allegedly claimed the arrest of Mr. Rehman as violation of statutory powers of arrest available to NAB under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999 as well as of the constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and the law laid down by superior courts. As a precedent the petitioners quoted order of Islamabad High Court issued on March 08, 2020 defining the guidelines and parameters for NAB while arresting any accused. According to those the government was obligated to warn the management of Geo TV regarding its criticizing attitude and motivate it for holding friendly programs.
“Mir Shakell’s arrest is linked with the conspiracy to curb free media”, reads the Petition
The petition says, “There is no legal basis for issuing the arrest warrant as the accused [Mir Shakilur Rehman] is not a fugitive or a terrorist or a wanted criminal. He is the head of the biggest and the well-reputed media house in Pakistan who was fully cooperating with the NAB and furthermore, it was mere a second call-up notice for complaint verification as the proceedings had not been converted into inquiry or investigation stage.”
The petition considers the arrest of Mr Rehman as an attempt for curbing free media in Pakistan. Petitioners consider the arrest in the light of other show cause notices that PEMRA issued to some channels on NAB’s instructions.
Meanwhile Lahore High Court had issued a notice to NAB on Monday in sequence of hearing a petition filed by Mr. Rehman’s wife. She had challenged her husband’s arrest and physical remand in the case of illegal land allotment by Mian Nawaz Sharif then Chief Minister Punjab.
Shaheena Shakil, (Mrs. Rehman) filed the petition through Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan before a bench of two judges i.e. Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh and Justice Ali Baqar Najafi. She attended the proceedings in person accompanied by three of her sons including Mir Ibrahim.
Barrister Ahsan replied in response to the queries by bench that no formal questionnaire was supplied to the Mr. Rehman and that he was asked a few question while he was appearing before a combined investigation team on 12th March. He was fully prepared and answered the questions properly. He was arrested albeit the verification of the complaint against him was not yet finalized. Mr. Ahsan argued that NAB issued the arrest orders while being in Islamabad and being ignorant of the facts and claimed that the detention of petitioners’ husband is illegal.
Justice Najafi asked Mr. Ahsan; could the petition against illegal arrest be maintained while the court has granted the physical remand. He replied that grant of physical remand by the accountability court was unlawful and the order did not mention any reason therein. The judge asked the counsel, “Is this the same inquiry wherein former premier Nawaz Sharif has also been summoned?” The counsel’s response was affirmative.
Justice Najafi observed, while referring that the arrest warrant was issued on the same day when the call up notice was made, that the concerned authority should have applied mind on the situation reasonable. Justice Najafi also observed, during a dialogue with NAB prosecutor Faisal Raza Bokhari, that the accountability should be within the limits of law but should be without any discrimination.
“Submit your reply and comments by 26th March”, Court directs NAB
Mr. Bokhari told the bench about the health conditions of the suspects. He told about round the clock availability of doctors and the daily basis medical examination of all the suspects. That is why no independent medical board is required. He also informed that it is not possible to conduct daily meetings of suspect with his family members and lawyers. The bench asked NAB to produce before it “reply” and para wise comments by 26th March.
Earlier, Shaheena Shakil requested the court to issue release order of her husband, saying he would not go anywhere. However, Justice Najafi issued the remarks that all people are equal before the court whether the suspect is a former PM or owner of media house.
IChief Justice Athar Minallah is also hearing another petition while heading an IHC division on Tuesday. The petition is against GEO TV closure on cable network and demotion of channels to less numbers. Mr. Ahsan Satti had filed the said petition through Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon and the respondents are the cabinet secretary, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal and PEMRA chairman Saleem Baig. The petition demands that the court should declare the act of controlling media through these means as “illegal”. It also demands restoration of GEO TV’s place on the cable to where it was before Mr. Rehman’s arrest.
On Monday, Pakistan Bar Council had condemned Jang group’s owner’s arrest. Vice Chairman of PBC Abid Saqi said in a statement that arresting MR. Rehman is against all legal as well as ethical norms. He accused that NAB has been playing pressure tactics through false charges, against the people from the media and political arena who are criticizing the policies of government.