Pakistan Arrests Two Journalists as X Remains Restricted for 10 Days

islamabad — Authorities in Pakistan detained a journalist Monday, the second within a week, while domestic access to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, remained disrupted for a 10th consecutive day.

The crackdown comes amid widespread electoral fraud allegations following parliamentary elections, fueling concerns about freedom of speech in a country known for throttling media.

Asad Ali Toor, an independent journalist with nearly 300,000 followers on X and more than 160,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, was taken into custody Monday evening by the Federal Investigation Agency, or FIA, his lawyer confirmed.

Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir said that the FIA’s cybercrime reporting center in the capital, Islamabad, had summoned Toor earlier in the day to join an inquiry into allegations that he was running a “malicious campaign” through social media platforms against top judges, including the country’s chief justice.

“[The] manner in which journalists in this country are being treated is appalling. Constitutional Courts must play their role 2 [sic] ensure fundamental rights are not brazenly violated in this manner,” the lawyer wrote on X.

The FIA or government officials immediately did not comment on Toor’s detention, which has outraged journalists and human rights activists.

“The assault on press freedom in Pakistan continues to strengthen as journalists are arrested simply for reporting, asking critical questions, & speaking truth to power,” Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said on X.

He noted that Toor was critical of some of the controversial rulings that Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa announced.

“Is the Supreme Court above criticism? Is the media’s role of accountability obsolete? Is this still a democracy?” Khilji asked.

Munizae Jahangir, a television talk show host and co-chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said they would stage a rally against the arrest and “for freedom of expression” in Islamabad on Tuesday.

“Arrest of @AsadAToor must be condemned. Criticism of judgments is not a crime & they are public property,” Jahangir wrote on X, adding that “it is a journalist’s duty and right to criticize” judgments and comment on court proceedings.

Last Thursday, police in the country’s most populous province of Punjab arrested Imran Riaz Khan in a late-night raid on his home, citing corruption charges. He denied any wrongdoing and told the judge during a Friday court hearing that he was being targeted for his critical reporting on alleged state-sponsored rigging in the national elections.

Khan returned home only recently after allegedly being detained and tortured for five months by Pakistani intelligence agency operatives. He has 5.6 million followers on X and 4.6 million subscribers to his YouTube channel.

X remains blocked

Meanwhile, X services remained restricted in Pakistan on Monday, 10 days after services were suspended amid allegations of massive rigging in the February 8 vote.

“Metrics show that X/Twitter remains restricted in #Pakistan into a tenth day, as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms,” Netblocks, a U.K.-based global cybersecurity watchdog, said on X.

Pakistan has experienced five internet service interruptions since the beginning of 2024, affecting its 128 million users, Surfshark, a Lithuania-based internet shutdown tracker, reported last week.

It said that three restrictions happened this month and were directly related to the parliamentary elections, while the remaining two happened in January during virtual campaign events organized by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s opposition, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party.

Many Pakistani users are skirting the restriction through virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allow users to hide online locations and identities.

“With reports of VPN restrictions coming to light as well, it seems that the country is prepared to take any means necessary to cut its citizens off from each other and the rest of the world,” said Lina Survila, the Surfshark spokeswoman.

Authorities shut down mobile internet services across Pakistan on election day and for several hours beyond, citing terrorism threats to the electoral process. The move, however, triggered domestic and international backlash and fueled vote-rigging allegations.

PTI alleged the communications blackout was carried out to manipulate final results, preventing its candidates from winning and enabling pro-military parties to gain the upper hand despite losing by big margins in initial projections.

The interim government has rejected the fraud charges and dismissed calls from several countries, including the United States and Britain, to fully investigate the allegations as an interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.


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