THE arrest of Jang Group owner Mir Shakilur Rehman by NAB has once again highlighted the anti-graft watchdog’s high-handedness and propensity to target critics.

In a move that bears all the telltale signs of a witch-hunt, the bureau called Mr Rahman to appear before it and then proceeded to arrest him for allegedly acquiring land through illegal means.

The probe relates to property of almost seven acres that Mr Rahman is said to have acquired 34 years ago during the tenure of the then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif.

According to NAB, since Mr Rahman could not satisfactorily answer its questions, an arrest warrant was served on him and he was detained in the bureau’s lockup.

That the bureau decided to investigate a three-decade old matter at this time would be baffling had its modus operandi not been clearly established.

Time and again, NAB has been accused of political victimisation and of pursuing cases against those critical of the incumbent government or the bureau.

It is no secret that NAB has targeted opposition politicians by initiating probes, arresting them and then holding them in custody for extended periods — remands which have often ended in bail when courts found no reasonable justification to support the prolonged detention of suspects.

The Jang Group’s revelation that NAB officials have threatened the closure of its channels and asked its journalists to ‘slow down’ or stop stories may offer some explanation as to why NAB felt compelled to suddenly take up this case which for all these years did not appear to be on the anti-graft body’s radar.

If there is to be an investigation, it must be conducted in a professional, equitable manner and on the basis of sound evidence.

The bureau has earned a reputation for arbitrarily arresting people and exerting pressure on them despite their cooperation with investigators.

In fact, it is this very notion of ‘arrest first, investigate later’ that the Islamabad High Court criticised when it chastised NAB in the cases of Ahsan Iqbal and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for failing to produce compelling reasons to arrest individuals.

In a separate case, the court remarked that NAB appeared to be more interested in arresting individuals than investigating them.

Mr Rahman’s arrest, as in so many other NAB cases, smacks of deliberate harassment.

This case comes across as a way of silencing a free media that is exercising its right to criticise the flawed accountability exercise.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

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