Pakistan probes torture of two journalists in Balochistan

A quarantine camp in Pakistan's Balochistan. Authorities are investigating after journalists said they were tortured for reporting on a camp near the Afghan border (AFP Photo/Banaras KHAN)

Pakistan authorities said Tuesday they had launched an investigation after two journalists accused paramilitary forces of torturing them for reporting on a coronavirus quarantine centre near the Afghan border.

Television reporters Saeed Ali Achakzai and Abdul Mateen Achakzai said they were abused while spending three days in detention in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province.

Photos released to AFP by the men, who are not related, showed them with apparent red welts across their backs.

Balochistan's home minister Ziaullah Langove said an inquiry was underway into the "brutal incident".

"Three officials who were directly involved in the incident have been suspended," Langove told AFP, adding that the original case against the journalists had been dropped.

In a statement, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said: "It is absolutely unacceptable that representatives of the security forces should commit acts of torture simply because they didn't like what these two journalists reported."

Saeed Achakzai, a reporter for Urdu-language Samaa News, and Abdul Achakzai, who works for the Pashtun-language Khyber News, had reported on a lack of water and basic facilities at the quarantine camp.

"The district administration ... particularly did not like our coverage," Saeed Achakzai told AFP.

He said the two journalists were told to report to the paramilitary border police, who then turned them over to an anti-terrorism force that took them to a notorious jail and beat them with batons and cables.

"I never imagined that I would have to go through this, at one point I thought I am not going to survive now, they are going to kill me," Saeed Achakzai said.

Pakistan routinely ranks among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the government or powerful military.

In recent years the space for dissent has shrunk further, with the government announcing a crackdown on social networks and traditional media houses decrying pressure from authorities that they say has resulted in widespread self-censorship.