Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said it is "appalled" by the move to take veteran Pakistani journalist and TV anchorperson Hamid Mir off air, terming it as "another step towards autocracy" in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led government's rule, reports Pakistan newspaper Dawn.
Mir had said earlier this week that he had been informed by the Geo News management that he would "not go on air on Monday" to host his five-days-a-week show 'Capital Talk', reported the English-language daily.
The Dawn report, published on its website late on Wednesday, says sources from the Geo News management had confirmed that Mir had been sent on forced leave for some time.
Journalist bodies and human rights organisations strongly condemned the move, terming it an attack on the freedom of expression and press.
Recently, during a fiery speech in Islamabad, Mir had called for accountability for repeated assaults on journalists in Pakistan.
He was speaking at a protest against the recent attack on journalist and YouTuber Asad Ali Toor, the Dawn report said.
"Reporters Without Borders is appalled that Hamid Mir [...] 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," the global watchdog said in a statement earlier in the day.
"An autocratic climate is steadily taking hold in Pakistan," it added.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index for 2021.
RSF noted that Mir was "suspended summarily", without any form of proceedings against him.
The statement quoted Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, as saying that it was "extremely disturbing that a media group has been reduced to censoring its own star journalist simply because he defended his fellow journalists against violence".
"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," he added.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Geo/Jang Group said Mir had made a speech "that has resulted in backlash from different segments of society", the Dawn report said.
"The editorial committee and lawyers will check for violation of policy and law. Meanwhile, 'Capital Talk' will be hosted by a temporary host," the Geo statement said.