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Shakil-ur-Rahman case highlights Pak's attempt to throttle media freedom

Pakistan has been known to strangle press freedom by imposing censorship or arresting journalists for some bizarre reasons. The owner-editor of Jang, nation's most powerful media conglomerate, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's appearance in court on Wednesday has again brought forth Prime Minister Imran Khan's attempts to control the country's media.
Shakil-ur-Rahman case highlights Pak's attempt to throttle media freedom

Pakistan has been known to strangle press freedom by imposing censorship or arresting journalists for some bizarre reasons. The owner-editor of Jang, nation's most powerful media conglomerate, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's appearance in court on Wednesday has again brought forth Prime Minister Imran Khan's attempts to control the country's media.

Rahman will be appearing for a 34-year-old private property transaction in Lahore. He was arrested on March 12, held for 100 days, till now five bail hearings have been postponed and as many as thrice the bench has been changed. The other person accused in the case is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had allegedly bent rules to lease property to Rahman during his tenure as Chief Minister of Punjab in 1986.

According to an article in The Washington Post by Beena Sarwar, a freelance editor and political analyst, Rahman's arrest was so unexpected that he did not obtain pre-arrest bail when responding to the summons by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) office in Lahore.

Citing legal experts, Sarwar said it took over three months for the government to file charges against him. Amjad Pervaiz, Rahman's defence counsel, was quoted as saying that the "undue and unholy haste" of the arrest, which occurred on the same day the inquiry was authorised, violated the NAB's own protocols.

Besides, Rahman, a 65-year-old journalist with health conditions, have been kept in the facility which has reported a number of coronavirus cases.

Pakistan has been in and out of press censorship for a long time. In 1980s, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's military regime had imposed press censorship and even flogged journalists. In 2007, Pakistan saw a heavy media censorship, including for Jang's Geo TV.

Though present Prime Minister Imran Khan is an Oxford-educated former cricket hero, his party has been seen more aligned with the nation's powerful military than any past elected government.

Under Khan, the authorities are not imposing press censorship but are instead giving threats to the journalists, especially those exposing government's lack of response amid coronavirus pandemic. Targeting social media users, human rights and peace activists is now a common feature.

"Over the past 18 months, the government has cut off advertising payments to media houses that don't toe the line. Newspaper compes face distribution disruption and television channels have been taken abruptly off the air. A youth-led human rights movement is so heavily censored that it doesn't exist on mainstream media. Direct threats to journalists via WhatsApp calls or messages are increasing," said Sarwar.

( With inputs from ANI )

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