Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled that Hamid Mir, the well-known host of one of Pakistan’s most prestigious TV programmes, has been taken off the air by his TV channel after saying at a protest that those responsible for recent physical attacks on journalists should be identified. An autocratic climate is steadily taking hold in Pakistan, RSF said.

The host of Capital Talk, a current affairs programme broadcast every weeknight on Geo News, Hamid Mir was suspended summarily, without any form of proceedings. He told RSF that his channel’s management notified him that he would “not go on air” as from 31 May. A Geo News source confirmed to RSF that Mir was “sent on forced leave.”

The Geo/Jang Group, which owns Geo News, said in a statement yesterday that a speech made by Mir “resulted in backlash from different segments of society.” Capital Talk will have a temporary host while “the editorial committee and lawyers will check for violation of policy and law,” the statement added.

The statement was presumably alluding euphemistically to reactions from the military to the address that Mir gave at a protest in the capital, Islamabad, on 28 May in support of Asad Ali Toor, a journalist who was beaten and tortured by three men inside his apartment for several hours on 25 May. His attackers identified themselves as members of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s feared military intelligence agency, Toor said.

Another step towards autocracy

In his speech in support of Toor, Mir called for those behind this and other recent attacks on journalists to be identified and implied that he thought that Pakistan’s all-powerful armed forces were responsible.

“It is extremely disturbing that a media group has been reduced to censoring its own star journalist simply because he defended his fellow journalists against violence by the security services,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “In his programme, Hamid Mir nurtured the flame of democracy and pluralism in Pakistan with courage and abnegation. His disappearance from the airwaves is another step in this government’s progress towards autocracy.”

Toor, who is well known for social media posts defending the rule of law against abuses by the military and ISI, reported that the men who attacked him inside his home last week forced him to shout slogans in support of Pakistan, the military and ISI. 

Another journalist known for criticising the military, Absar Alam, was seriously wounded by a shot fired in broad daylight near his home in the centre of Islamabad on 20 April, as RSF reported at the time. No suspect has been identified in the six weeks since that shooting.

Matiullah Jan, a journalist who is well known for his critical coverage of the judicial system and the military’s attempts to control it, was kidnapped for half a day in July 2020 by men who tortured him and threatened to kill him if he continued his critical reporting.

Mir himself only narrowly survived being shot six times in a murder attempt that took place while he was on his way to Geo News in Karachi in April 2014.

Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.