Home Uncategorized Pakistan Releases Journalist on Bail; Continued Blockade of Social Media Platform X Sparks Concerns

Pakistan Releases Journalist on Bail; Continued Blockade of Social Media Platform X Sparks Concerns

Pakistan Releases Journalist on Bail; Continued Blockade of Social Media Platform X Sparks Concerns

Islamabad – After spending 20 days in detention, independent journalist Asad Ali Toor has been released from jail in Pakistan. Toor was arrested on accusations of disseminating “anti-state” commentaries through his social media platforms, a move that sparked outcry from advocates of free speech who called for his immediate release.

Toor’s legal team pursued relief through various courts, contending that his detention violated Pakistani laws safeguarding freedom of speech. Confirming his release, lawyer Imaan Mazari-Hazir asserted that Toor’s arrest was unjust.

With nearly 300,000 followers on X (formerly known as Twitter) and over 160,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel covering political affairs, Toor was detained on February 26 by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). He faced allegations of running a “malicious” and “anti-state” campaign against Pakistani government officials and institutions on his social media platforms, charges vehemently denied by the journalist himself, who accused authorities of retaliating against him for his critical reporting.

Prior to his arrest at his residence in Islamabad, Toor had been actively broadcasting commentaries critical of the chief justice of Pakistan and the country’s powerful military establishment.

During the raid on his home, FIA operatives confiscated Toor’s broadcasting devices and reportedly pressured him while in custody to disclose his sources, according to his legal representatives.

Toor’s release on bail occurred following a call from the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for his “immediate and unconditional” release, denouncing his arrest as a severe violation of press freedom in Pakistan.

In a statement, CPJ urged authorities to cease employing Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and other stringent laws to persecute journalists and stifle critical reporting and commentary.

Renowned Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, who boasts over 1 million followers on X and more than 270,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, condemned Toor’s arrest, asserting that he was denied due process of law.

The detention of Toor came on the heels of the arrest of Imran Riaz Khan, another prominent journalist in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, on alleged corruption charges. Khan, with 5.6 million followers on X and 4.6 million subscribers on YouTube, refuted any wrongdoing, alleging that he was targeted for criticizing alleged state-sponsored rigging in the February 8 national elections.

Pakistan’s elections were marred by accusations of widespread voter fraud, with officials rejecting claims of electoral manipulation.

Continued Blockade of X Platform

Meanwhile, concerns mount as 28 civil society organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, jointly called for the removal of a monthlong blockade on the social media platform X.

Despite Pakistan’s official denial of the restriction, independent foreign and domestic digital media monitors have confirmed its existence.

The ban has prompted Pakistanis to resort to virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the blockade, allowing users to conceal their identities and locations online.

In a joint statement released on Friday, the collective of human rights activists and civil society organizations expressed deep concern over escalating instances of internet shutdowns and social media platform blocking, particularly surrounding the general elections in Pakistan.

The statement highlighted the arbitrary blocking of platforms, including the prolonged disruption of X since February 17, 2024, as evidence of growing digital censorship in the country.

The blockade of X was implemented shortly after nationwide mobile phone and internet services were shut down during the February 8 parliamentary elections, fueling allegations of electoral manipulation by Pakistan’s military-backed interim government.

The joint civil society statement underscored that such actions not only infringe upon fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information but also set a troubling precedent of stifling genuine political discourse and plurality of voices in Pakistan.


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