ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Three opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) — have jointly filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against what they called a crackdown by the government on Geo TV and the arrest of Jang group editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman.
Hearing another petition in this connection, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday issued a notice to the National Accountability Bureau. The petition, filed by Mr Rehman’s wife, has challenged the arrest and physical remand of her husband in a case of 54-kanal land allegedly allotted to him by then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif in 1986.
The petition filed in the IHC was signed by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N and some lawmakers of the JUI-F and JI.
The IHC will take up the petition on Wednesday.
Separately, Mir Shakil’s wife challenges his detention, physical remand
The petitioners through Barrister Zafarullah Khan have cited the NAB chairman, the secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as respondents. They alleged that by issuing the orders for the arrest of Mr Rehman the NAB chairman had abused the statutory powers of arrest by NAB under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, and that the arrest was in violation of constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and the law laid down by superior courts.
The petitioners have referred to the IHC’s order of March 8, 2020 in which the court had set parameters and guidelines for NAB regarding arrest of an accused.
The petition claimed that before arrest of the Jang group’s chief, the government had warned the Geo TV’s management over its criticism and urged it to hold friendly programmes.
“There is no legal basis for issuing the arrest warrant as the accused [Mir Shakilur Rehman] is not a fugitive nor a terrorist nor a wanted criminal,” says the petition, adding: “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 said it appeared that the arrest of Mr Rehman was an attempt to curb free media in the country and that it was seen in the light of show-cause notices issued to some channels by Pemra on behalf of NAB.
An IHC division bench headed by Chief Justice Athar Minallah will take up a similar petition on Tuesday against the alleged closure of Geo TV on the cable and the relegation of the channel to lower numbers.
The petition was filed by Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon on behalf of Ahsan Satti.
The petition has cited the cabinet secretary, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal and Pemra chairman Saleem Baig as respondents.
The petition has argued that the court should declare the act of controlling media ‘illegal’ and that Geo TV should be returned to its place on the cable where it was before the arrest of Mr Rehman.
Shaheena Shakil, wife of Mr Rehman, filed the petition through Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and personally attended the proceedings before a two-judge bench comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh. Mir Ibrahim and two other sons of the media mogul also joined their mother in the court.
Responding to the bench’s queries, Barrister Ahsan said that NAB had not supplied any formal questionnaire to the petitioner’s husband; however, he was asked a few questions by the investigators on his first appearance before a combined investigation team.
Mr Rehman appeared before the team on March 12 fully prepared to answer the questions, but he was arrested, though the complaint against him was still at the stage of verification.
The counsel argued that the NAB chairman issued the arrest warrants for Mr Rehman while sitting in Islamabad and without knowing the facts. He said the petitioner’s husband was in illegal detention of NAB.
Justice Najafi asked Mr Ahsan if a petition against alleged illegal detention was maintainable after the grant of physical remand by a court of law.
The counsel said the accountability court granted the physical remand unlawfully and without mentioning any reason in its order.
“Is this the same inquiry wherein former premier Nawaz Sharif has also been summoned?” the judge asked the counsel who responded in the affirmative.
Referring to the issuance of arrest warrants on the same day of call-up notice, Justice Najafi observed that the authority concerned should have applied mind reasonably.
In a dialogue with NAB prosecutor Faisal Raza Bokhari, Justice Najafi observed that accountability should be without any discrimination but within the limits of the law.
Mr Bokhari said all the suspects in custody were medically examined on a daily basis as the bureau had its own doctors available round the clock. He said there was no need of any independent medical board. He said a daily meeting of a suspect with his family members and lawyers was not possible.
The bench sought a reply and para-wise comments from NAB by March 26.
Earlier, Shaheena Shakil requested the court to issue release order of her husband, saying he would not go anywhere.
However, Justice Najafi remarked that all were equal before the court either a former prime minister or a media house’s owner.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Abid Saqi on Monday condemned the arrest of the Jang group’s owner.
In a statement, Mr Saqi described the arrest as against all legal and ethical norms. He accused NAB of resorting to pressure tactics by falsely implicating mostly those, in the political and media arena, who criticised the government’s policies.
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2020