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In a major development, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore on Thursday arrested editor-in-chief of Jang Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a case pertaining to the alleged purchase of a 54-kanal piece of land "from the then chief minister of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif," in 1986.

This was the second time Rahman appeared before the anti-graft watchdog to answer its questions about the land in question. But after "failing to satisfy" the Bureau, Shakil was taken into custody and he will be presented before an accountability court today (Friday) for his physical remand, said NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali.

Sources said that Rahman remained in the premises of Bureau for almost two hours and was subsequently arrested after he could not satisfy the officials with the "record". According to NAB, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had illegally leased the land to Rahman in 1986.

On February 28, the NAB had issued a call-up notice to Rahman, directing him to appear before it on March 5, 2020, to record his statement regarding the land allotted to him in 1986 in Block H, Johar Town Phase 2 "by then chief minister Punjab Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in violation of the relevant laws and rules".

According to an official statement issued by the Jang Group, the property was bought from a private party 34 years ago and all evidence of this was given to NAB. "Today's appearance was in relation to a call-up notice for the verification of the complaint, yet Rahman was arrested," it added. "During the past 18 months, NAB has sent our reporters, producers, and editors - directly and indirectly - over a dozen notices threatening to shut down our channels (via PEMRA) due to our reporting and our programmes on NAB," the group alleged.

"NAB has also, through several means, tried to persuade us to go slow, to stop stories and to do others in its favor at the expense of the full truth. We will not stop any reporter, producer or anchor from any story that is on merit and at the same time will include NAB's version," the statement read.

According to a report published in The News, Rahman had appeared before the NAB on March 5 and informed the officials that he had purchased the land from a private owner and that he possessed evidence of the same. Talking to the media outside the bureau, he had said that similar accusations had been levelled against him in the past as well but were proved false. He said he was hopeful that the watchdog and courts would decide his case fairly.

Meanwhile, Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said through twitter: "HRCP is deeply concerned at the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, editor-in-chief of the Jang/Geo group, by NAB on a 34-year-old property-related matter. There remains a strong suspicion that such actions by NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically motivated. The journalist community sees this as yet another attempt to gag a beleaguered independent press. HRCP demands that the government should immediately take steps to address this issue and provide its commitment to freedom of press."

PBA: Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) has strongly condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by NAB. Arresting the editor-in-chief of a media house, while the case is still under inquiry and on a call up notice, appears to be an attempt aimed at influencing the media group's editorial policy as also claimed by the group and such arrests are against the judgments of Superior Courts, PBA said and added that it

demands immediate release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. It also demands an impartial, free and fair enquiry into this case, the statement concluded.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020