September 16th, 2020

By Hamid Riaz 


Journalist Asad Toor was granted one week’s Transit/Protective Bail by Chief Justice Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah, today. An FIR was registered against Journalist Asad Toor for allegedly “spreading propaganda against the state, particularly the armed forces”, at the Jaatli Police Station, Rawalpindi. The FIR includes defamation charges, three sections of the Prevention of the Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) as well as section 505 of the PPC, a non-bailable and non-cognizable offense.

“There are no concrete facts in the FIR as such, it relies more on generic statements than hard evidence. The complainant, Hafiz Ehtasham, has claimed in the FIR that he has attached “screenshots” of the alleged “propaganda posts”, but so far the police have shared no such content with us”, says Haider Imtiaz, Toor’s legal counsel, while discussing the contents of the FIR. “The FIR contains section 37 of PECA which is not even a penal offense, this is how tangible it is”, laughs Haider.

But this is not the first time Hafiz Ehtasham has taken, what can be termed as, “frivolous” legal action. Since 2018 alone Ehtasham has filed petitions asking for, the Laal Masjid to be re-opened, a time limit on the hearing of blasphemy cases, the courts to disqualify Imran Khan for not declaring Sita Jane as his daughter, and even one against Fazl-ur-Rehman’s Azadi March.

“People claim that I was ‘asked’ to file this FIR but that’s not true.”, says Hafiz Ehtasham in a shrewd tone. “I take legal action for the greater good of this country”. When asked ‘what exactly disturbed him so much about Assad’s posts. He failed to mention anything at all. “I can’t point out a particular post right now but I have submitted screenshots of 10 social media posts to the police”, he claims. “There is a whole network of lawyers who guides me about these things, you can discuss the legalities with my lawyer Tariq Asad Sahab”, he continues.

Advocate Tariq Asad, President of the Shuhada Foundation, a trust set up for the ‘martyrs’ of Laal Masjid, on the other hand, denies being Ehtasham’s lawyer. “I respect the journalist community too much to allow such a thing to happen. I was not even in the city when this FIR was filed he did not consult me at all”, clarifies Asad. Advocate Tariq, who himself has a long history of “serial petitioning” including one against a “hair removal cream”, claims that he “strictly opposes the FIR”.

Advocate Tariq even ‘removed’ Ehtasham from the Shuhada Trust for being too “immature and childish”, not long ago but he was rehired on his position as the spokesperson of the foundation.

Despite Asad’s denial and scathing remarks against his character, Ehstasham asserts that Asad will be his lawyer. “He was completely on board and advised me about the case. He might have denied being my lawyer because he spends most of his time in the supreme court. He will probably send one of his juniors for my proceedings”, asserts Ehtasham.

The Shuhada Foundation, founded in 2008, became a source of controversy in 2016 when it tried to organize the 10th anniversary of the Laal Mosque incident. Islamabad High Court forbade it from holding the ceremony calling it an “unregistered organization”.

One of the goals of this foundation is to provide “legal advice” to the Laal Mosque. Ehtasham who has been the face of this organization for quite some time now was a close confidant of Maulana Abdul Aziz but denounced him for offering to “forgive General Musharraf” claiming that Abdul Aziz had “made a deal with the establishment”.

He even filed an FIR against Abdul Aziz’s wife Umm-e-Hassan claiming that she had “aroused people to kill him”.

According to Advocate Omar Gillani, Toor’s co-counsel, Ehstasham is fairly ‘popular’ in the High Court circles. “He was once severely rebuked by the court for his frivolous petitions”, claims Omar Gillani. But that has not stopped Ehtasham, who has been called a “proxy” by Asad Toor.

“My client believes that this FIR is based on mal-intent. The real reason behind registering this FIR is to punish him for his brilliantly articulated, well researched, and brave coverage of the proceedings of the Justice Qazi Faiz Isa’s case”, continues Gillani. “This is revenge”, he continues.

Even though Journalist Asad Toor has been granted transit bail Ehtasham seems confident. “Transit bails are temporary. You should not say that he has been bailed. You should say that he has been bailed for now”, says Ehtasham with ‘child-like’ excitement.