Pakistan’s top court on Monday granted bail to the owner of one of the country’s largest media groups, after a months-long detention condemned by rights groups as suppression of the press.
Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman’s Jang Group, which includes some of Pakistan’s biggest newspapers and the Geo television network, has frequently been critical of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government as well as the country’s powerful military.
He was arrested in March over alleged corruption in a land transaction dating back to 1986, an accusation denied by his representatives who in turn alleged that Pakistan’s corruption watchdog targeted him because Rehman’s media group looked into the agency’s workings.
“The court has granted bail to Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, he is going to be released after spending more than 200 days in detention”, Rana Jawad, Geo TV’s director of news, told AFP.
Last week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Pakistan’s supreme court to order Rehman’s release, saying he was being held on a “spurious charge”.
RSF added Rehman’s group was targeted because its journalists “dare to tackle stories that are supposed to be off-limits”.
Pakistan routinely ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers and criticism of the country’s powerful security establishment has long been seen as a red line.
Journalists and bloggers have complained of intimidation tactics including kidnappings, beatings, and even killings if they cross that line.
Last month, a Geo journalist briefly went missing after reporting on the controversial arrest of an opposition politician.
Geo News, which has been critical of both the government and the army, has faced several brief broadcast suspensions in recent years.
In recent years the space for dissent has shrunk further, with the government announcing a crackdown on social networks and traditional media houses decrying pressure from authorities they say has resulted in widespread self-censorship.