Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s former prime minister, left for London ahead of a looming verdict on corruption charges he and his daughter Maryam face amid mounting signs of a military-led clamp down on the media.
Maryam said they will visit her mother who is undergoing cancer treatment in the UK capital, posting pictures on Twitter of her father sitting in a plane’s business class section. “If exemption not granted, will return before next hearing Insha’Allah,” she said, referring to the criminal case they face. She added in a separate post that “as the storm abates, those who stood firm, shall emerge victorious & shine through.”
Sharif leaves Pakistan as the media faces increased censorship over coverage of the former premier, who was disqualified from office last year on graft charges. He continues to control the ruling party and has held rallies ahead of elections due in July. Pakistan’s military has strained ties with the civilian government and is widely speculated to have brought about Sharif’s downfall.
Since March, Geo — a popular television channel — has been forced off air in parts of the country and newspaper columnists have complained of censorship. The judiciary, which many see as being supported by the military, has ordered a media regulator to take action against television programs critical of the Supreme Court — which issued a lifetime ban against Sharif ever holding public office.
“The media is under pressure from various institutions,” said Arif Nizami, the editor of the Pakistan Today newspaper. “The bigger danger isn’t these bans, but quiet bans that we don’t see and aren’t talked about.”
Television channels muted or stopped coverage of a speech made by Sharif critical of the courts. Pakistan’s media has also shied away from covering protests by ethnic Pashtun groups who have accused the military of repression and disappearances. A spokesman for the armed forces wasn’t available for comment.