Journalist Asad Toor released from Adiala Jail after Islamabad court approves bail

Published March 16, 2024
Journalist Asad Ali Toor after his release from Adiala Jail on Saturday. — Photo by author
Journalist Asad Ali Toor after his release from Adiala Jail on Saturday. — Photo by author

Journalist Asad Ali Toor was released from Adiala Jail on Saturday after an Islamabad trial court approved his bail in a case about an online campaign against the judiciary.

In January, the car­e­taker government had established a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe an alleged social media campaign against the judiciary following the Supreme Court’s ruling that stripped PTI party of its bat symbol. This investigation led to Toor’s questioning of by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials for nearly eight hours on February 23, despite previous assurances to the Supreme Court that no action would be taken against journalists before the general elections.

Toor was later arrested on Feb 26 and faced charges under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act for allegedly launching a malicious campaign against state institutions, leading to his being remanded into custody and eventually to jail.

As the case developed, the Islamabad High Court intervened, ordering an expedited bail hearing for Toor, which had been postponed to March 18 due to the investigating officer’s illness. This legal drama unfolded amid calls from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for Toor’s immediate release and an end to his harassment, highlighting concerns over freedom of expression and the press in Pakistan.

Special Judge Central Humayun Dilawar conducted the hearing of the case today. The petitioner, Toor, was represented by Advocates Imaan Mazari-Hazir and Hadi Ali Chatha.

The investigation officer of the case and FIA prosecutor Ashfaq Hussain Shah were also present in court with the relevant case records.

At the outset of the hearing, Advocate Chatha submitted the Supreme Court’s observation that journalists should not be booked over a social media campaign against superior judges.

At this, Judge Dilawar asked the investigation officer of the case and the FIA prosecutor if the Supreme Court’s observation being referred to was true. “Yes this observation is true,” the FIA official told the court.

Subsequently, the court accepted Toor’s bail plea against surety bonds of Rs5,000. The journalist was later released.

Advocate Hazir rejoiced at the development, saying their friend was once again among them.

Civil society reacts to Toor’s bail

Reacting to the development, journalist Hamid Mir stated that Toor’s bail approval proved that “all allegations were a pack of lies”.

In a post on X, he said: “Judge Humayun Dilawar ordered the release of journalist Asad Toor today but what about those who registered a fake case against the journalist?

“What about the 10-day physical remand given to FIA for the investigation? What about the anti-state allegations in the FIR? It is now proved that all allegations were a pack of lies.”

Barrister Ahsan J Pirzada lauded Toor’s counsel for the approval of Toor’s bail plea.

“Alhumdullilah, 20 days after his arrest, Asad Ali Toor has been granted bail by the FIA court. Congrats to everyone, especially Imaan Hazir and Hadi Chatha. The way they both fought, despite numerous hurdles, is a testament to their courage, determination, professionalism and friendship,” he posted on X.

Background

A day after Toor’s arrest, an Islamabad district and sessions court had granted the FIA a five-day physical remand of the journalist. On March 6, the same lower court had extended Toor’s physical remand for two days.

According to the FIR (first information report), Toor was booked under Sections 9, 10 and 24 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), which deal with the offences of glorification of an offence, cyber terrorism and cyberstalking.

The FIR stated that Toor “built a false narrative” and publically launched a “malicious/obnoxious and explicit campaign” against “civil servants/government officials and state institutions”.

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