The recent series of attacks on journalists for exercising their independent media structure and on retaliation facing severe blows from the government is the beginning of the dark era of press freedom in Pakistan.
Pakistani journalists are no stranger to intimidation, harassment, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction, or threats of death.
From the thrashing of a Pakistani journalist to the suspension of a renowned television talk show host for suggesting the military was behind it, the risk associated with journalism in the country couldn’t go any grave.
Asad Ali Toor, who works for the Aaj News Pakistani TV channel, was assaulted by three mysterious men on May 25, 2021, who forcibly entered his apartment in Islamabad. As they tied him up and tortured him. They identified themselves as being from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy security arm of the military.
“There is no space for freedom of speech and dissent,” says Toor. “If one criticizes the military and Imran Khan, they face physical and online attacks. The level of frustration has rocketed. They can’t tolerate criticism by journalists.”
In April 2020, Absar Alam, a prominent critic of the government, was shot and wounded by an unidentified assailant.
Another journalist, Matiullah Jan, on July 21, 2020, encountered abduction by an unidentified assailant, in an attempt to intimidate him the day before he was to appear before the Supreme Court for allegedly “using derogatory/contemptuous language and maligning the institution of judiciary.”
In response to the attack Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s best-known television talk show hosts spoke at a protest in solidarity with Asad Toor.
“Do not ever enter the homes of journalists again,” he said. “We don’t have tanks or guns like you, but we can tell the people of Pakistan about the stories that emerge from inside your homes.”
In retribution, Mir was told by his employers at Geo Television that his popular nightly show Capital Talk would not air anymore.
“The management (of Geo) asked me the very next day to issue a clarification that I was not talking about anyone in the Pakistan Army,” Mir told The Indian Express from Islamabad.
Mir asserted he will not back down in the wake of threats and tweeted standing rigid on his views towards the fascism of the government.