Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was arrested on corruption charges in a real estate deal involving the purchase of land.
Islamabad, Pakistan – A Pakistani court acquitted the owner and editor-in-chief of the country’s largest independent news group in a case related to an alleged breach of regulations in a property purchase in the eastern city of Lahore in 1986.
Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was arrested in 2020 after authorities accused him of colluding with prominent political leader Nawaz Sharif, a former three-time prime minister who was chief minister of Punjab province at the time, to illegally buy a property . After eight months in prison, he was released on bail by the Supreme Court in November 2020.
Rehman’s Jang news group, which includes popular news TV channel Geo News, Urdu-language newspaper Jang and English newspaper The News, has criticized Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and has faced service disruptions and other forms of censorship since Khan regained his energy .
An anti-corruption court in Lahore acquitted him of all charges on Monday, Muaaz Ahsan, a senior Geo News official, told Al Jazeera. He denies all allegations against him.
Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist. Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked it 145th out of 180 countries on its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
“Pakistan’s media, which has a long tradition of being very lively, has become a prime target for the country’s ‘deep state‘, a euphemism for the military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the main military intelligence agency , and they exercise a significant degree of control over the civilian executive,” RSF says in its country profile on Pakistan.
“The influence of this military ‘establishment’, which dislikes independent journalism, has increased dramatically since Imran Khan became prime minister in July 2018.”
“One Side of the Political Divide”
In 2019, an investigation by Al Jazeera found that since Khan came to power, Pakistani journalists have faced increased censorship, including harassment, pressure on news organizations and unannounced interruptions in television signal or newspaper distribution.
In May 2021, Rehman’s Geo News suspended prominent TV news anchor Hamid Mir from hosting its nightly news talk show after he was critical of the country’s powerful military, which has directly ruled the country for about half of its history.
Mir made the comments during a protest against the attack by another Pakistani journalist, Asad Ali Toor, who is also known for his anti-government and anti-military views.
Sharif, Khan’s main political rival and leader of the PML-N political party, has been at the center of Khan’s anti-corruption campaign, which launched in 2018 after he came to power in an election the results of which were contested by right-wing groups and opposition parties.
When Pakistan’s Supreme Court granted the release of a prominent PML-N party leader in a corruption case in July in July, it found that the country’s anti-corruption watchdog appeared to be biased in its case.
“The FBI seems reluctant to take action against people on one side of the political divide, even when it comes to financial fraud on a massive scale, while those on the other side are arrested and imprisoned for months and years without providing sufficient cause,” said Supreme Court Judge Maqbool Baqar in a sharply worded ruling.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim