LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday arrested Jang group editor-in-chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a 34-year-old case related to 54-kanal land he allegedly acquired “illegally” in the tenure of then chief minister of Punjab Nawaz Sharif.
According to the NAB, Mr Rahman has been arrested in connection with “alleged illegal exemption of 54 plots (each measuring one kanal) in H-block of Jauhar Town phase-II allotted to him being the holder of general power of attorney on behalf of Hidayat Ali and Hikmat Ali by the then Punjab chief minister (Nawaz Sharif in 1986) in violation of the relevant laws/rules”.
In a statement, NAB said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman would be presented before an accountability court in Lahore on Friday (today) to obtain his physical remand.
“We will present evidence against him in court,” it said and asked the Jang group to refrain from levelling baseless allegations against NAB.
Mr Rahman appeared before a joint investigation team of NAB at its provincial headquarters at Thokar Niaz Beg on Thursday and answered its queries for more than two hours.
Rights, media organisations condemn arrest, allege victimisation
“As Mr Rahman could not satisfy the NAB team regarding its queries, an arrest warrant was served on him and he was detained in the bureau’s lockup,” an official source told Dawn.
He said that under the Lahore Development Authority’s (LDA) exemption policy, not more than 15 plots measuring one kanal each could be exempted to Mr Rahman. “There must be some reasons that he was exempted 54 plots measuring one kanal each in a single compact block. He was required to surrender 70 per cent of this land,” said the source.
The bureau also asked him to tell whether he had made any payment for the land of two streets which was given to him as excess land of the LDA. The land of common passage, he said, could not be sold to any person. It said Mr Rahman made a sale deed (of 54 plots) in favour of his wife and children being the general power of attorney holder of Hidayat Ali.
“These plots were transferred to Mr Rahman by his wife and children. The land for which Mr Rahman obtained general power of attorney was not located at one place in compact form, rather it was located in the form of three pockets at different locations.”
After his appearance before the NAB team in Lahore last week, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had said he had bought the land in question from a private party and no illegality had been committed in this respect.
In a statement, the Jang group said its editor-in-chief had been arrested by NAB in connection with a property allegedly bought illegally from a government entity more than 34 years ago. The property was bought from a private party and all evidence of this was provided to the NAB, including the legal requirements fulfilled like duty and taxes.
It said: “In the past 18 months, NAB has sent our reporters, producers and editors, directly and indirectly, over a dozen notices, threatening a shutdown of our channels (via Pemra) due to our reporting and our programmes about NAB. In its defence, NAB has in writing said it is a constitutionally protected institution that cannot be criticised. NAB also has through several means tried to persuade us to go slow, to stop stories and to do others in its favour at the expense of the full truth. We will not stop any reporter, producer or anchor from any story that is on merit and at the same time will try to include NAB’s version as well.
“In this case, NAB denies all allegations and claims they are independently pursing all cases and have not been asked to do by the democratically-elected government in Islamabad.”
It further said the NAB complainant was a person working for a fake degree company who had a media entity that had been internationally exposed time and again. “Jang group has already won a defamation case against this complaint in a previous case and is engaged in several other criminal defamation cases for which he is being prosecuted.”
On the other hand, NAB has rejected the allegations levelled by Jang Group and urged the media to avoid broadcasting and publishing news items without getting version of its spokesman in light of the Supreme Court verdict in Arshad Sharif case, adds APP.
The NAB spokesman in a statement termed the allegations of Jang Group concocted, fabricated and baseless.
He said NAB would plead the case against Mr Rahman as per law.
He said NAB believed in freedom of expression but would continue its national duty of taking action against the corrupt without caring about any propaganda, pressure, browbeating and threatening.
He said the anti-graft watchdog adhered to the policy of considering only cases without caring about the status of the accused. The bureau believed in performing its duties as per law and the constitution, he added.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) has condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
“Jang group is one of the oldest and largest media houses in the country. Arresting the editor in chief of a media house, while the case is still under inquiry and on a call-up notice, appears to be an attempt at harassment for the media group’s editorial policy as also claimed by the group and such arrests are against the judgements of the superior courts.”
The All Pakistan Newspapers Society has also condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Hameed Haroon, president, and Sarmad Ali, secretary general, APNS, said the arrest of the chairman and the chief editor of a leading media house was a clear indication that the government had moved forward in its attempt to silence the independent media in the country.
Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors President Arif Nizami has expressed concern over the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.
“For NAB to arrest Mr Rahman at this initial stage of the investigation is uncalled for and is another example of what the Islamabad High Court observed last week about NAB’s practice of arresting individuals without enough proof only to cause harm to their reputations,” Mr Nizami stated in a press release.
The PBA has urged the government and opposition parties to look into the matter to ensure that it is not an attempt by elements in NAB to muzzle the criticism by the media group against them. It demands an immediate release of Mr Rahman and impartial, free and fair investigation of this case.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) too has expressed its “deep concern” over the arrest of Mr Rahman. “HRCP is deeply concerned at the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman editor-in-chief of the #Jang/Geo group by NAB, on a 34-year-old property-related matter. There remains a strong suspicion that such actions by NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically motivated,” the HRCP tweeted.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists said it was concerned at the arrest of Mr Rahman as the NAB action seemed selective and politically motivated.
Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz, PPP co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari, former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Senator Sherry Rehman, PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Auranzeb and PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari also condemned the arrest of Mr Rahman.
“After crushing the country’s economy through NAB, the selected PTI government is bent upon curbing press freedom,” Mr Zardari said.
Shahbaz Sharif said the media was the fourth pillar of the state. “The fascist rulers are trying to destroy it. We can smell revenge from Mr Rahman’s arrest.”
Maryam Nawaz said this crackdown on the media was not new. The arrest of Mr Rahman might block the news but it would not block the truth.
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2020