Mir Shakilur Rehman, an editor with Pakistan’s largest media group, has been arrested on “politically motivated charges” claimed Human Rights Watch (HRW) and urged the authorities to release him and stop harassing his family members.
In an HRW statement on Friday, Pakistani authorities were accused of “using vague and overbroad anti-corruption laws against dissenting voices.”
Rehman, 63, editor-in-chief of the Jang group, has been in pretrial custody since his March 12 arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption watchdog that “has been implicated in serious abuses” the rights group said.
He was arrested on charges relating to a 34-year-old property transaction and his bail was denied on by the Lahore High Court on July 8 even as he said he posed no flight risk and was in ill-health.
The next day, the court heard an NAB petition seeking the arrest of Rehman’s wife and four children concerning the same property transaction. In 1986, at the time of the property transaction, Rehman’s children were ages 8, 6, 4, and 1, HRW pointed.
“Seeking the arrest of Mir Shakilur Rehman’s children for alleged acts when they were hardly more than toddlers shows how ludicrous the case against him is,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
The rights group detailed the “climate of fear” Pakistan’s media operates in.
“Media outlets are under pressure from the authorities not to criticize the government. The Jang Group alleges that, over the past two years, the NAB has sent more than a dozen threatening letters to its reporters, editors, and producers for reporting that has been critical of the bureau,” the statement reads.
“The Pakistani government should cease using the National Accountability Bureau to target journalists, opposition politicians, and outspoken critics,” Adams said. “As a first step, the government should repeal the draconian dictatorship-era laws that have shrunk basic free expression rights.”
Since its creation in 1999, the National Accountability Bureau was granted unchecked powers of arrest, investigation, and prosecution. It is allowed to detain people for up to 90 days without charge.
In March, the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court ruled that the NAB had made arbitrary use of its arrest powers.