Bilal Farooqi is seen in an undated photo from his Twitter (@bilalfqi).
Bilal Farooqi is seen in an undated photo from his Twitter (@bilalfqi).

Police in Pakistan's port city of Karachi have released a local journalist accused of spreading hateful content against the country's military on social media as a court reprimanded the police for overstepping their mandate, a lawyer for journalist Bilal Farooqi said.

“The court asked the police if an FIR [first information report] does not stand ground, who has given you authority to pick up people from home,” Ghulam Shabbir, Farooqi's lawyer, told Reuters on Saturday.

Farooqi, who works for the English-language Express Tribune newspaper, was arrested Friday at his home.

"Through his [social media] posts, Bilal Farooqi defamed the Pakistan army, and anti-state elements used these posts for their vested interests," a police report seen by Reuters said.

The report also alleged that his online activity spread religious hatred and incited mutiny against the military.

Shabbir said he expected that the police report would be submitted within a week and that the case would be discharged.

'Absurd' charges

"The charges against me are so absurd, that I am spreading religious hatred and defaming institutions, these are all bogus charges," Farooqi told Reuters before his court appearance.

Earlier, Farooqi's family told local media that police had seized his mobile phone during a search of their home.

Journalists and press freedom advocates have accused the Pakistani military and its agencies of pressuring media outlets to smother critical coverage.

Farooqi's arrest and subsequent release were the latest in a series of such moves against journalists who have been critical of the government or military.

They also came days after Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted that Pakistan has a free media.

Police cited the country's cybercrime law, which critics say contains vague language that can be used to criminalize basic online activities.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this week expressed concern about instances of incitement to violence against journalists and human rights activists.

"We have raised our concerns directly with the government and we have urged immediate, concrete steps to ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats," it said in a statement.