ISLAMABAD (AP) – A Pakistani television station on Monday pulled a prominent journalist from its airwaves, imposing him as host of a popular talk show after criticizing the country’s powerful army, the journalist said and rights groups.
This development comes just days after journalist Hamid Mir gave a heated speech during a rally in support of fellow journalist Asad Ali Toor, who was beaten up by three unidentified men in his apartment in Islamabad.
Geo News TV has not commented on changes to its “Capital Talk,” a five-day-a-week program in which Mir invites guests to discuss current events in the country. Journalists and press freedom advocates often accuse the Pakistani military and its agencies of harassing and attacking journalists. The government insists it supports freedom of expression.
In a statement on Twitter, Amnesty International denounced Mir’s ban and called on Pakistani authorities to protect freedom of expression. “Censorship, harassment and physical violence should not be the price journalists pay for doing their job,” he said.
Also on Monday, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission denounced Geo News for removing Mir from its airwaves. He said the action against him comes after he fervently spoke out against escalating restrictions on free speech in the country.
Local journalist groups, which document attacks or violations against journalists in Pakistan, say the period May 2020 to April 2021 saw 148 such attacks.
Mir confirmed his withdrawal in a text message to The Associated Press. He then tweeted that it was nothing new to him. “I have been banned twice in the past,” said Mir, who had also been fired in the past by Geo News.
Mir was attacked in 2014 in the port city of Karachi, when a gunman seriously injured him. His family at the time blamed the country’s intelligence services for orchestrating the attack. The perpetrator was never known to the public.
Geo News’s decision was quickly condemned by journalists, politicians and members of civil society groups. Pakistan’s Federal Journalists Union asked the TV station to explain whether the move was taken under pressure from the government.
The owner of the station, Mir Shakilur Rehman, was arrested last year in a decades-old case linked to allegations of tax evasion in connection with a real estate purchase. He was released a few months later by court order.
Toor, the journalist beaten in his apartment, works for Pakistani television station Aaj News. He later told police that his attackers claimed to be Inter-Services Intelligence. However, the spy agency distanced itself a few days later.
On Friday, Mir and dozens of Pakistani journalists attended a rally in Islamabad to condemn the attack on Toor. So far, authorities have not arrested anyone in connection with the attack and police say they are still investigating.