Police recently opened an investigation into Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor after he filmed a protest in Islamabad. (Screenshot: Asad Toor Uncensored/YouTube)

Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor targeted in criminal investigation of protest

On March 3, 2022, police in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, opened an investigation into Asad Ali Toor for allegedly leading an unauthorized protest earlier that week, according to news reports and Toor, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

On March 4, the Islamabad High Court ordered police not to arrest anyone named in the case until another hearing on Monday, March 7; at that hearing, Chief Justice Athar Minallah said that police officers’ use of excessive force and the registration of a criminal case against the protesters constituted an abuse of state power, according to news reports.

Toor, who was present at the March 7 hearing, said that Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan told the court that the state would withdraw the case. Toor told CPJ on March 9 that he had not been formally notified that the case had been withdrawn.

Khan and Shabbir Ahmad, the station house officer of Islamabad’s Kohsar police station who filed the complaint, did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app.

Toor told CPJ that he denied any leadership role in the protest, held on March 1 at the city’s National Press Club to protest the disappearance of an ethnic Baloch student, and only attended to cover it as a journalist.

A number of students were injured when police charged the protesters and attacked them with batons, according to Dawn. Toor alleged that the investigation was retaliation for his coverage of the protest and the police crackdown on his YouTube-based current affairs channel, Asad Toor Uncensored.

In a first information report, a police document opening an investigation, authorities accused Toor and several others of criminal conspiracy, rioting, unlawful assembly, obstruction of a public servant’s duties, defamation, and intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace. The most serious of those crimes, criminal conspiracy, can carry a death sentence, according to Pakistan’s penal code.

Previously, in September 2020, the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency in the northern city of Rawalpindi filed a first information report against Toor for allegedly defaming the army through his social media posts, according to news reports.

After four months of legal proceedings, the Lahore High Court dismissed the case for lack of evidence, according to news reports and Toor. He said that the state never informed him or his lawyers about who filed the complaint that led to the registration of a first information report, or which social media posts were allegedly defamatory.

Separately, in May 2021, unidentified armed men attacked Toor at his home and left him bound and gagged, as CPJ documented at the time. Toor told CPJ that police have not identified the perpetrators of that attack.

CPJ emailed the Federal Investigation Agency and Islamabad Police Inspector-General Muhammad Ahsan Younas for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.