Pakistan is one of the most notorious countries for attacks on journalists in the world. Being a journalist in Pakistan is not a piece of cake. During last year, i.e., from May 2020 to April 2021, 148 cases of attack against media personnel were reported. The Annual Report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Pakistan as 145th out of 180 countries in World Press Freedom Index.
Last month has been a tempestuous one for Pakistani journalists. On Tuesday, May 26, 2021, Asad Ali Toor, notorious for his criticism on establishment, was attacked in his own house, at night. The mysterious attack on Asad Toor is the latest in the long series of attacks on journalists in Pakistan. Before Asad Toor, journalists Absar Alam and Matiullah Jan were also attacked.
Toor said that, at 11:00 PM, someone knocked at his door and when he opened the door, three men came in, tied him up and beat him severely. Consequently, he was hospitalized at PIMS. The attackers, according to Toor, identified themselves as the officers of an agency and questioned him on the sources of his income. This explanation raised several questions as well as eyebrows. Intelligence agencies are known for their stealth and hardly any intelligence official would knock on someone’s door and introduce himself as a member of that agency.
Last year, Toor was also charged under Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), for defaming Armed Forces. Asad Toor, the person who is in limelight during these days is a relatively unknown. A digital media journalist Toor, runs his own YouTube channel with almost 25000 subscribers. He also works as a Current Affairs Program Producer at Aaj TV. The incident took place in a residential area of Pakistan’s capital city when it was bustling with people.
Soon after the incident, IG Islamabad Qazi Jameel-ur-Rehman formed an investigation team under the supervision of DIG Operations Afzal Ahmad Kauser. The investigation team would look into all possible aspects of the case. The investigation team had been directed to use all scientific and forensic methods to trace the culprits involved in the incident.
ISI completely disassociated itself from the incident saying it had nothing to do with the incident. An official explanation was issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In a press release by the Ministry of Information, it was stated that, “the allegations against the ISI were part of the fifth generation warfare under a well thought-out conspiracy”. The press release further goes on to say that a fair investigation of the incident must be carried as the faces of assaulters can be clearly seen in the CCTV footage and culprits must be exposed. The ISI also assured full cooperation with the investigation agencies in this regard, added the Ministry.
On May 28, Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s well-known television talk show hosts, added fuel to the fire and spoke at a protest in solidarity with Asad Toor. He warned, “If you’re breaking into our homes to assault us well, we cannot enter your homes as you’ve tanks and guns, but we can make things public, things from inside your homes”. On Monday, he was suspended.
The news of Hamid Mir suspension from the Capital Talk created a buzz all around. But, after that a young journalist Makhdoom Shahab Ud Din had exposed an Indian Nexus operating from the Hamid Mir Facebook verified page. After the startling revelation surfaced on the media, the Indian admin of that page promptly removed the verified page of Hamid Mir with blue tick permanently removed from the Facebook. After that, Hamid responded on Twitter saying: “I am trying to make a Facebook page now because there are many pages in my name these pages are fake and one was even verified the management of Facebook must investigate that how they verified a page in my name when I was not directly operating it?”. It is quite a surprise that Mir wasn’t aware of the verified Facebook page, which had been operating for years. And that page was deactivated after Shahab exposed the Indian connection.
Recently on June 8th, Hamid Mir has tendered his apology over his controversial statement against the Armed Forces of Pakistan, saying: “I want to make it clear, without any pressure, under my conscience, sense of responsibility and prevailing journalistic values, I did not name anyone in my speech nor I have personal enmity with Pakistan Army. I respect the Armed Forces of Pakistan as an institution. It was never my intentions to hurt anybody sentiments and emotions but if my statement [against Pakistan Army] has hurt anybody then I would extend my heartfelt apology in this regard”. He has also appealed to the government to stop the attacks on journalists and arrest those responsible. Many netizens jokingly termed it a successful ‘software update’.
The attack on Asad was also condemned by fellow journalists and other civil society groups of the country. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), called this incidence, as “yet another attack on freedom of expression and a free press”. Such attacks on the independence of media, freedom of press, freedom of expression and the right to access information, undermines the watchdog function of media and thus democratic governance. Undermining citizens right to the access of information, automatically undermines democracy. A free press is a pre-requisite for the healthy functioning of democracy. Having said that, media should also play a responsible role and not immediately jump on the conclusion that national agencies are behind the attacks. By immediately blaming them, they are doing no good but only fulfilling the enemies’ nefarious designs and plans.