Pakistan says it supports freedom of speech but human rights groups often accuse the state and military of harassing and attacking journalists.

Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor, center speaks during a demonstration called by journalists union to condemn the attack on journalists in Islamabad, Pakistan on May 28, 2021.
Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor, center speaks during a demonstration called by journalists union to condemn the attack on journalists in Islamabad, Pakistan on May 28, 2021. (Reuters)

Pakistani journalist recently beaten by unidentified men in his apartment has said he was summoned by authorities to answer allegations he defamed a key national institution, a term often used for the military.

Asad Ali Toor, who works for the Aaj News Pakistani TV channel, said on Wednesday he was consulting his lawyer to decide whether to appear before the Federal Investigation Agency on June 4.

The development comes a week after three armed men forcibly entered Toor's apartment in the capital Islamabad, saying they were from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). 

The assailants repeatedly slapped Toor, accusing him of criticising the agency.

However, the ISI has distanced itself from the attack, saying it was not involved.

Pakistan Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has said authorities are close to arresting the assailants who attacked Toor. 

But Toor said he was not satisfied with the government's investigation.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he described how one of the assailants injured both his arms by striking them with a pistol after tying his hands and feet.

“When one of the attackers put his pistol on my head, for a second I thought my time is over," Toor said.

READ MORE : Pakistani TV bans talk show host over speech against attacks on journalists

Fellow journalists harassed 

He said some of his fellow journalists who spoke out to support him have also been harassed.

Among those, Toor said, was prominent Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, who was taken off air as the host of his popular talk show by Pakistan's Geo News TV because of a speech in which he criticised the army at a rally on Friday.

Mir told AP on Tuesday he might have used “strong words" against the army but his speech was in response to growing attacks on journalists. 

He said he attended the rally to express solidarity with Toor and other journalists who had recently been attacked or harassed.

Although Pakistan’s government insists it supports freedom of speech, human rights groups often accuse Pakistan’s military and its agencies of harassing and attacking journalists.

At a news conference Tuesday, Hina Jilani, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, denounced the assault on Toor, the removal of Mir as a host of his TV show and other attacks on journalists.

“Journalism is not a crime. Dissent is not a crime," she said.

Journalists and press freedom advocates often accuse Pakistan’s military and its agencies of harassing and attacking journalists. The government insists it supports freedom of speech.

In a statement on Twitter, Amnesty International denounced the ban on Mir and asked Pakistani authorities to protect free speech. “Censorship, harassment, and physical violence must not be the price journalists pay to do their jobs," it said.

READ MORE: The Pakistani media’s shadowy beast

Attacks on journalists 

The latest incident follows last month's attack on journalist Absar Alam, who was shot and wounded near his residence in the capital Islamabad.

A lone attacker seen on CCTV footage is yet to be apprehended.

Another journalist Matiullah Jan was abducted in July 2020, from outside a women's college in the outskirts of Islamabad. 

CCTV footage from the college that purportedly showed the abduction in broad daylight went viral on social media before Jan was released after spending 12 hours in captivity. 

No arrests have been made in the case so far.

READ MORE: Pakistan TV channel returning to air after negotiations with army - sources

Source: TRTWorld and agencies