May 26th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
“They told me to say ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ to prove my patriotism, and then questioned me about who was funding me?” says journalist Asad Ali Toor in a video released late Tuesday night as he described the assault by unknown assailants who broke into his apartment in Islamabad.
While speaking to Voicepk.net from Islamabad, Toor said the assailants identified themselves as agents from the Inter-Services Agency, adding that in his statement to the police he mentioned this fact. “It’s now up to the police to investigate whether the assailants allegedly were linked to the spy agency or not,” he said.
Asad Ali Toor, a video blogger is famous for his criticism of the government, said the police has registered a first information report of the assault but his lawyers told him that the police had made mistakes in inserting the correct sections related to the offenses in the FIR. “The Senior Superintendent of Police has assured the Journalist Defence Committee that the sections would be corrected, he added.
Toor said the assailants made no effort to hide their faces and they can be tracked from the CCTV footage of the building. “I hope that the police identifies the attackers from the CCTV footage but I am not that hopeful as police had failed to identify attackers similarly in the case of another journalist Matiullah Jan,” he added.
Asad Ali Toor, a video blogger is famous for his criticism of the government. On Tuesday, the journalist community was shocked ro jear that three men had broken into his home and had gagged and tortured him. Later Toor is seen describing details of the assault in a video which was widely shared on social media. The video was shot in a hospital room where Toor was taken for a medicolegal examination after the assailants left his apartment.
In his video statement to the police, Toor is seen saying that three unidentified assailants barged into his first-floor apartment in a residential building in the F-11 sector in the federal capital. The armed gunmen overpowered him and started beating him.
“The assailants threw me onto the floor and told me to keep silent,” Toor says. The gunmen threw him onto the floor and gagged him. Toor says he was severely tortured by the attackers who kept on hitting their pistol butts on his elbows. “One of the attackers kicked me twice on the face before turning me over with my face to the floor,” he says in the video.
Toor says he began to scream loudly for help when one of the attackers loosened his grip to take out his cell phone which began ringing on a call. “As I kept screaming they moved to my bedroom door, telling me that they are leaving my apartment,” Toor says.
The three assailant exited the apartment with the CCTV footage from the building showing them in the corridor. Two of the assailants went downstairs using the stairway on one side while the third assailant uses the stairway on the other side of the apartment’s corridor.
“I then managed to stand up as both my hands and feet were tied and opened the door to my apartment,” Toor says. He reached the corridor and shouted for help, adding that officials from the building reached there and untied him.
Toor was taken to a private hospital for treatment where his condition was said to stable. He has been discharged from hospital. Taking notice of the attack, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry directed the Islamabad police chief to investigate the attack on the journalist.
On Wednesday, Asad Toor also participated in a demonstration outside the National Press Club to slam the attack. The protest was attended by journalists and civil society representatives. They called for the arrest of the perpetrators.
‘I was warned about an attack after Eid’
In a video blog on April 28, Asad Toor had spoken about threats to his life. He said his father had been harassed twice by serving officials of intelligence agencies. In the video blog, Toor says a sitting MNA as well as another highly-placed well-wisher had warned him that the agencies were not happy with his critical reporting.
“Recently, a sitting MNA contacted me and warned that the agencies are after you, meaning that I face a life threat,” he says.
“A few days ago, a well-wisher contacted me and told me that I may face a threat after Eid. “You should be careful and stop doing stories against the Establishment,” Toor quotes the source as having told him about the warning.
Controversial stories covered in recent months
On his channel on Youtube, Asad Ali Toor has regularly reported the sugar scam scandal allegedly involving members of the ruling government and the dubious role of government ministers and aides in the reference against the Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
On the day of the attack, Toor had uploaded his blog about the facilitator brokering a deal between the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and the Establishment.
On May 21, Toor revealed that a news relating to the promotion of a brother of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt-General Faiz Hameed was deleted from the website and the newspaper forced to issue a clarification in this regard. The brother of the ISI chief is a land revenue official in Chakwal, and was peomoted to naib tehsildar. But in his blog, Toor questions the removal of this news item from the website and says it poses a threat to the independence of the press in the country.
In his blogs, Toor criticises the governance of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, particularly Prime Imran Khan’s failure in the wake of numerous scams in his tenure.
The Journalists’ Protection Bill
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Pakistan is among the top most hazardous countries for journalists with more than 60 journalists killed and scores others attacked in the last 10 years. Journalists and media watchdogs have called for special legislation for protection and safety of journalists and media workers in the country for the last several years.
In response to these demands, the federal government tabled the much-awaited Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals bill in the National Assembly on May 21. On the same day, the Sindh government also tabled a similar legislation in the Sindh Assembly. The bills have yet to be passed by both of the assemblies.
Last year, the journalist was accused of defaming the military under the cybercrime law. According to the FIR, Toor had allegedly indulged in propaganda against Pakistan and its institutions on social media for long. However, the Lahore High Court absolved him of the charges after the FIA police told the court that no evidence was found to support the charges.
Attack widely condemned
The assault on the journalists was widely condemned by journalists, activists and media associaitions and international rights organisations.
In a statement, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said that this is a second time that journalist Asad Toor is being harassed and beaten. “This cowardly act of beating and harassing an independent journalist shows anxiety of anti-media agents who are bent upon denying freedom of press and free speech and expression in the country” they said.
The Supreme Court Reporters Association and the National Press Club issued separate condemnations of the attack, terming the incident as an attack on the freedom of the press. Office-bearers of both the organization called upon the government to arrest the culprits.
In a tweet, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan strongly condemned the brutal assault on Asad Toor. “We see it as yet another attack on freedom of expression and a free press,” it said. The HRCP demanded that the authorities apprehend and charge the assailants immediately.
Amnesty International noted with grave concern that the violent attack on the journalist happened in the same week as the presentation of the Protection of Journalists Bill in the National Assembly.
“We reiterate our call to authorities to take urgent steps to provide journalists with greater protection, following years of spiralling threats, intimidation, and attacks against media workers in Pakistan,” Amnesty International said in a tweet.
Other civil society platforms including Joint Action Committee and Aurat March have also decried the act of terrorism against a journalist.