Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor was recently summoned over his alleged defamation of the government. (Photo: YouTube/screenshot)

Journalist Asad Ali Toor summoned for alleged defamation of Pakistan government

Washington, D.C., June 1, 2021 — Pakistan should authorities stop harassing journalist Asad Ali Toor and let him work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, the Cyber Crime Reporting Center of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency in Rawalpindi issued a summons addressed to Toor’s home, ordering him to appear for questioning on June 4, according to the Dawn newspaper and a copy of the summons, which CPJ reviewed.

Authorities seek to question Toor in response to a complaint that he defamed an “institution of Government of Pakistan” on “social media,” according to the summons, which does not specify the social media post in question or the government institution that was allegedly defamed, and warns that he could face criminal prosecution if he does not comply.

Toor, a producer for the privately owned broadcaster Aaj TV who also hosts a YouTube current affairs channel that has about 25,000 subscribers, told CPJ in a phone call today that he had not received the summons; he said he only heard about it and seen copies circulating on social media.

Last year, Toor faced a similar accusation that was ultimately dismissed by a court for lack of evidence, according to news reports.

“Pakistan authorities must halt the ceaseless harassment of journalist Asad Ali Toor and allow him to work without interference,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Criticizing state institutions is a core function of a free press in a democracy, and Pakistan should not try to thwart such speech.”

According to Dawn, the summons was issued in response to a complaint by a person identified as Fayyaz Mehmood Raja, who objected to posts by Toor on social media. CPJ was unable to find any contact information for Raja.

Toor said he did not know what prompted the summons, which states that “The available facts suggest you are well aware of the facts/circumstances of said enquiry.”

Last week, unidentified men attacked Toor at his home and left him bound and gagged, as CPJ documented at the time. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said today that authorities were close to locating one of the suspects of that attack, according to reports.

Toor also told CPJ that, since yesterday, he has received phone calls from numbers around the world berating him about his political commentary. He said his phone number had been revealed on social media, even though he had obtained a new number after last week’s attackers seized his phone.

CPJ emailed the Federal Investigation Agency director-general’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.