ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has asked the government of Pakistan to clarify the reported persecution of media and media owners, including Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman.

In a letter, David Kaye, a special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion, and Leigh Toomey, the vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have asked the government to provide detailed information on the legal grounds for the arrest and detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, including the reasons why the charges against him have been pressed 34 years after the alleged offence.

The letter said, “Why is Mr Shakil-ur-Rehman held in pre-trial detention and explain how these measures are compatible with international standard related to the right to liberty and security of the person and the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on civil and political rights.”

It has also expressed concerns over allegations of barriers and restrictions to freedom of expression by media, and explain the steps taken by the incumbent government to ensure that media can enjoy its right to freedom of expression free from threats, harassment and intimidation of any sort.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that it may transmit the case through its regular procedure in order to render an opinion on whether the deprivation of liberty was arbitrary or not.

The working group has also asked the government to halt the alleged violations and prevent their recurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

The UN Human Rights Council has referred to information it has received which includes that on March 12, 2020 in Lahore the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman on allegations that he had illegally leased land in 1986.

NAB alleged that the transaction had been conducted in a manner aimed to favour Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman through the then chief minister of Punjab.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was not provided with or allowed any legal assistance before or immediately after his arrest. He is currently detained by NAB at its detention facility in Lahore. It is reported that the arrest and detention aims to restrict his freedom of expression, and that of the media group he owns.

The Human Rights Council has also stated that on March 13, 2020, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) reportedly directed cable distributers throughout the country to stop transmitting Geo TV.

“According to the information received, the channels were taken off air without giving them a reason or a hearing,” the UN body said, adding that it has been reported that NAB had threatened over the past couple years reporters, producers, and editors over the media group’s coverage of NAB, and had threatened to use the country’s media regulator to shut down its broadcast channels.

The council said that in July 2019, Pemra interrupted a live interview with opposition leader and former president Asif Ali Zardari on GEO TV, shortly after it began. The same month, the authority blocked three television news channels — Capital TV, 24 News HD, and Abbtakk News Network — after the broadcast of speeches by opposition leaders.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2020

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