Islamabad Court Grants FIA Five-Day Physical Remand Of Journalist Asad Toor

FIR lodged against Toor accuses him of mala fide intentions and ulterior motives to allegedly build false narrative and start a malicious/obnoxious and explicit campaign against the modesty of civil servants/government officials and state institutions 

Islamabad Court Grants FIA Five-Day Physical Remand Of Journalist Asad Toor

A District and Sessions Court in Islamabad on Tuesday partially accepted a plea filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and granted it a five-day physical remand of journalist Asad Toor.

The FIA had arrested Toor on Monday evening. He was presented before Judicial Magistrate Mohammed Shabbir on Tuesday.

As the FIA submitted their plea seeking physical remand of Toor, they disclosed charges against him: operating a malicious campaign against the judiciary and state institutions. 

During Tuesday's hearing, Toor argued that he was a professional, working journalist, which is why he could not surrender his phone to the FIA. 

He further said that he had voluntarily appeared before the FIA twice to cooperate with them for their enquiry. 

Toor's counsel told the court that the journalist had received a call-up notice from the FIA on February 24. The notice was subsequently challenged before the Islamabad High Court (IHC). 

The counsel said that the IHC issued an order restraining the FIA from harassing the journalist while the court inquired about the accusations against Toor and if any FIR had been lodged. This order, the counsel said, was conveyed to the FIA on February 26. 

After the court issued the order, the counsel said that Toor voluntarily appeared before the FIA in compliance with the summons but was arrested.

The counsel requested the court to allow them to meet Toor and duly represent their client. The court accepted the counsel's plea. 

During Tuesday's hearing, FIA urged the court to grant them physical remand of the journalist to complete their investigations.

Subsequently, the court accepted FIA's request and granted them physical custody of Toor for five days.

FIR against Toor

According to the contents of the FIR, an enquiry launched by FIA's Cyber Crime Reporting Centre in Islamabad allegedly found that Toor, with mala fide intentions and ulterior motives, had allegedly built a false narrative and had started a malicious/obnoxious and explicit campaign
intentionally and publically against the modesty of civil servants/government officials and state institutions of Pakistan, as well as glorifying anti-state activities through his social media accounts.

Toor's arrest on Monday came a week after he had been interrogated by FIA officials for nearly eight hours on the same matter. 

On Monday, Toor travelled to FIA's office in Sector G-13 in Islamabad to join the enquiry against him after a hearing in the IHC.

He was, however, detained by FIA for hours. Later in the night, Toor's legal team confirmed that the agency had arrested him.

According to one of Toor's legal counsels, Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, the journalist had arrived at the FIA's Cyber Crime Reporting Centre in Islamabad to demonstrate his positive intent by answering summons and joining the inquiry against an alleged campaign against the judiciary. 

Mazari said the IHC had directed the agency not to harass the journalist. Still, he was taken inside the FIA premises, while his legal team was not allowed to accompany or represent him.

After waiting outside the FIA offices for hours, she said an official came out of the building and delivered a handwritten note from Toor, which contained instructions for taking care of his aged mother.  

It is pertinent to mention here that a Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa-led bench is already hearing a case regarding harassment of journalists. The top court is expected to take up the matter for a hearing in the first week of March.

Criticising arrest

Toor's arrest was widely criticised by people from all walks of life, including those with political affiliations on both sides of the aisle. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Pakistani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Toor and to cease harassing him for his journalistic work. 

"We are appalled by the arrest of Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor in apparent violation of an order by the Islamabad High Court," said CPJ Programme Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. 

"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."

Constitutional expert. Barrister Salahuddin said that the FIA, like the police, had the power to arrest people for specific offences. 

"Letting FIA do so chills free speech and inserts govt into matters of exclusive judicial discretion. Asad Toor's arrest is not only bad for journalism but makes the judiciary look terrible," Salahuddin wrote in a message posted on his social media account. 

It is pertinent to note that last month, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed to probe concerted smear campaigns launched against the top court and sitting judges on the media and social media.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain