It has now been 139 days since the arbitrary arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief of the Geo-Jang Group. The Public Media Alliance continues to join calls for his immediate release.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR) was arrested on 12 March in relation to unproven allegations about property transactions dating back to 1986. He has since had numerous bail petitions cancelled or postponed despite ongoing protests by Geo-Jang Group staff, rights groups, religious leaders, politicians and his legal team.

The arbitrary nature of Rahman’s arrest has been condemned as being part of a systematic campaign to curtail independent media and freedom of expression in Pakistan. It is widely believed that the arrest was due the media group’s independent editorial policy and criticism of the current government.

Speaking at a protest in Karachi this weekend, former president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to focus his efforts on Pakistan’s economic crisis rather than mounting a campaign against independent media.

Read more: PMA calls for the immediate release of Pakistan editor and media owner

But MSR’s ongoing detention is not the only sign of a rapidly shrinking space for critical journalism in the country. Just this week, a prominent journalist and critic of Pakistan’s military, Matiullah Jan, was briefly “abducted” outside a school in Islamabad. According to Deutsche Welle, CCTV footage showed Jan being bundled into a car “after being cornered by what appeared to be a police vehicle, an ambulance and an unmarked car.” Jan was released around 12 hours later in Fateh Jang, 46km from Islamabad.

In response to the apparent kidnapping, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed their deep concern “at increasing attempts to control the media, suppress independent voices, and curb[ing] political dissent, thereby creating an environment of constant fear.”

Campaigners have labelled the cases as just two examples of the intimidation tactics deployed by Pakistan’s government and military to silence critical voices. Press freedom has come under growing pressure under Imran Khan’s government, which has deployed numerous strategies to restrict independent journalism. This includes the interruption of newspaper distribution, the withdrawal of advertising from media outlets, the jamming of TV channel signals and orchestrated harassment campaigns.

As the COVID-19 crisis and its ramifications continue to intensify, it is essential that journalists are free to hold power to account, inform citizens and keep power in check.

Header Image: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the owner, CEO and Editor in Chief of Geo TV and the Jang Media Group after his arrest in March. Credit: Geo