Pakistani journalist arrested for social posts against government officials

Pakistani journalist and video blogger Asad Ali Toor was arrested by federal authorities on Monday on charges of orchestrating a malicious campaign against the state and its officials, with the “objective to coerce, intimidate, and incite violence” against them through his social media platforms.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) detained Toor for more than eight hours two days earlier, during which he was questioned on the same charges, according to his lawyers.

Imaan Mazari-Hazir, the counsel representing Toor, said that her client was brought to a court in Islamabad on Tuesday morning and was subsequently sent to custody for five days.

“The FIA asked for a 10-day remand, but the court limited it to five days. We will try to gain as much access to him during this period as is possible, and once it is over, we will try to seek bail for him,” she said.

Mazari-Hazir said that her client was cooperating fully with law enforcement officials. “He appeared before the FIA on February 23, even when he had not been duly served a notice to show his good faith. He was detained for eight hours. But he was sent another notice within 24 hours to appear on Monday,” she told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera requested comments from Murtaza Solangi, the caretaker information minister, but did not receive a response from him.

In recent months, several of Toor’s social media posts and videos have been critical of government agencies, Pakistan’s military establishment and even the Supreme Court. He criticised Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, especially after the top court upheld a decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan to ban former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party from using its symbol, the cricket bat, in the country’s February election.

The FIA, in its first information report — a document that records the initial complaint against an accused person — does not mention any specific post by Toor, but his lawyers believed his critical views on social media were the trigger for the action against him.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent media watchdog working to protect press freedom worldwide, issued a statement condemning Toor’s arrest and demanded his immediate release.

“We are appalled by the arrest of Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in a statement.

“Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Toor and ensure that journalists do not face retaliation for their critical reporting on institutions, including the judiciary,” the CPJ official added.

On YouTube, Toor’s channel has more than 160,000 subscribers. He has more than 285,000 followers on X.

In January of this year, the FIA summoned dozens of journalists, including Toor, relating to an alleged campaign against judges of the Supreme Court.

Earlier, during the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in 2021, Toor was attacked at his home by a number of people, whom he later alleged belonged to Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies.

Toor’s arrest has come at a time when global rights bodies have highlighted the deteriorating state of media freedoms in the country, with many journalists being abducted or arrested, while media coverage critical of state institutions has been muzzled, and social media platforms restricted.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international media rights group that works to safeguard the right to freedom of information, ranked Pakistan at 150th out of 180 countries in its latest press freedom ranking.

Pakistan’s February 8 elections were marred by widespread allegations of rigging and manipulation, with Khan’s PTI alleging its mandate was stolen.

On election day, mobile networks across the country were closed, citing “security concerns,” and days after the polls, access to X was also restricted in the country, a restriction that continues to date.

Prior to the elections, multiple journalists told Al Jazeera that they were asked to impose a near-blanket ban on covering the PTI’s campaign.

Political analyst Benazir Shah said that rather than protecting the fundamental rights of journalists, the state “twists vague and broadly written laws” to silence independent and critical voices.

“No matter who is in power in Pakistan, journalists and the media continue to be viewed as ‘enemies of the state’. What does change with each year though is the list of silent spectators from within the state, which increases, and now seems to include even those tasked to protect fundamental rights,” she told Al Jazeera.

Analyst and columnist Cyril Almedia also added that while social media is the last “relatively free space,” the state has been trying to create conditions that would lead to “further repression.”

“The sad truth is that there are no more than a handful of fundamentally democratic, principled voices left in Pakistan and [they are] isolated,” the analyst told Al Jazeera.


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