New Delhi: South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) has protested the detention of Pakistani editor and publisher of the Jang Group, Mir Shakilur Rahman, and the legal action against The Wire, and called it “representative of a trend across the region”.
In a press statement issued on April 4, SAMDEN, which has co-convenors from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, said, “While the harassment and imprisonment of journalists has been a distressing trend in all the countries of South Asia over the last few years, we have seen a sudden escalation in such actions over the past few years.”
“The pre-occupation of the world public and opinion makers with COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for those who want to try and gag critics in the media,” the statement said.
It highlighted that the editors of The Wire learnt of the case registered against it by Uttar Pradesh Police through social media. “The First Information Report (FIR) registered by the police in Lucknow says that the online news organisation reported that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath attended a public religious event in Ayodhya on March 25, after Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi had announced a national lockdown to counter the Coronavirus crisis.”
“This report was factually correct and a matter of record, yet the police has made it the basis for a criminal case,” it said.
SAMDEN noted that the actions against the news portal came at a time of “when the Central government has been trying to restrict media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The media defenders group, founded in 2017 and anchored in the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), also underlined that the arrest of Mir Shakilur Rahman in Lahore, who is the chief editor and proprietor of that country’s largest media group, was based on a 34-year-old property transaction, violating the rules that do not allow arrest at the stage of verification of the papers.
“Rahman’s arrest and detention follows a string of attacks on him and on his media group and its journalists by the Pakistani authorities and non-state elements over the past years,” it states, highlighting that organisations like Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Committee to protect Journalists and Association of International Broadcasters “have denounced such actions”.
“Urgent appeals have been filed for his release to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.”
The press note said, “Such cases undermine the media at a time that it needs to be strengthened.”