August 9th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
On the call of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) journalists held a protest demonstration on Monday at Lahore Press Club to call for the withdrawal of cases against journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat under the cybercrime law.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Saturday briefly arrested both journalists in Lahore over charges of alleged contempt towards superior judiciary, the military and women. The agency released both journalists on bail, pending an ongoing investigation. The PFUJ, civil society and political parties have condemned the arrest and cases against them under the cybercrime law.
Journalists and representatives of civil society and opposition parties participated in the demonstration. Members of Punjab Assembly from the Pakistan Peoples Party Syed Hassan Murtaza and Shazia Abid, Lahore Press Club President Arshad Ansari, Punjab Union of Journalists President Qamar Bhatti, senior journalists Imtiaz Alam, Naveed Chaudhry, Imran Shafqat, and civil rights activist Syeda Deep participated in the protest.
Holding placards and banners, the participants condemn filing of FIA cases against both journalists. They said it is reprehensible of the government to take action against journalists for critical reporting of its performance and governance. The protesters chanted slogans against the FIA action and the government, adding that the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf government, led by Prime Minister Imran, wanted to restrict freedom of expression in the country.
The protesters said the FIA cases registered against Imran Shafqat and Amir Mir for programmes against the First Lady and not because they were against the army or the superior judiciary, adding that the allegations of humiliation of women are baseless. The journalists have always respected women, they said.
Activists, PPP slam FIA notices over receiving contempt video
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and rights activists have criticised the Federal Investigation Agency for sending notices to citizens for receiving videos deemed contemptuous to the courts.
On August 8, the PPP strongly condemned ‘politically-motivated FIA notices to PPP MNAs, MPAs, Ministers, workers and office bearers’ over receiving video message of a certain individual charged under the cybercrime law for delivering a contemptuous speech against the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
FIA notices make no sense: Harris Khalique
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Harris Khalique, Secretary General of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said a receiver of any contemptuous material was not responsible for the said content under the law. “You cannot proceed legally against a person who has received something. How would you determine that the person has actually circulated the video,” he said, adding that the FIA notices to the PPP leaders made any sense.
Making recipient liable for contemptuous content dangerous precedent: Nighat Dad
Asked whether receiving a message or visual content that contains material regarding contempt of court constitutes an offence under PECA, Nighat Dad, Founder of Digital Rights Foundation, said the sections of PECA do not explicitly contain any offence relating to contempt of court. “Even though the FIA can include sections of Pakistan Penal Code which does not explicitly contain provisions about contempt of Court,” she said.
“It must be pointed out that making the recipient liable for (receiving) a contemptuous message would set a very dangerous precedent for the future as individuals have practically no control over what they receive as messages,” she added.
FIA action misuse of power: Khilji
Similarly, Usama Khilji, Executive Director of Bolo Bhi digital rights organization, termed the FIA action as an abuse of the draconian Pakistan Electronics Crime Act (PECA) cybercrime law. “So now the FIA will file cases against people for RECEIVING videos that are deemed contemptuous to the courts. Where are we headed? How does his make any sense, except in a police state bent upon a witch-hunt of any opposition to its polices? The abuse of draconian PECA must end,” Khilji wrote in his tweet.
According to the PPP statement, the FIA has sent notices to 8 PPP MNAs and MPAs including two provincial ministers among them, Dr Nafisa Shah, Qadir Patel, Shahida Rehmani, Naz Baloch, Shehla Raza, Qadir Mandokhel, Nasir Shah, Saeed Ghani, besides others. “The notice sent under section 160 of CrPC is to personally appear before FIA because they received messages from a certain individual charged under section 10, 11, 20 PECA 2016 for delivering a contemptuous speech against the Chief Justice,” the PPP said, terming the FIA action as witch-hunting and use of state machinery against PPP spokespersons and office bearers.
Saeed Ghani says won’t visit FIA office over notice
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Saeed Ghani, Sindh Information and Labour Minister, said the FIA had no adopted proper legal way of sending notices to sitting ministers and parliamentarians. “The FIA sent the notice on my Whatsapp contact and not to my residence or office which is required under the law,” Ghani said.
The provincial minister said he came to know through another source that the FIA has sent a notice on my Whatsapp contact which often has hundreds of messages daily.
Secondly, the minister said the notice did not mention the offences that he had committed that the agency was summoning him for questioning. He said the accused person Masood-ur-Rehman Abbas, a former party worker, had confessed before the apex court that he had made the video.
“Knowing of the said video, the PPP issued a showcause notice to Masood-ur-Rehman Abbas who was expelled from the party after his explanation was deemed unsatisfactory,” Ghani said. He said the party immediately took action against the party worker and expelled him.
According to the PPP minister, the matter was a shut case and there was no need to harass party leaders to whom the accused sent the controversial video. “I did not see the video sent to me on 17th June on my Whatsapp contact but saw it when it was forwarded by a journalist friend of mine,” Ghani said.
Asked whether he would appear before the FIA investigation, the Sindh information minister said he had no intention of going to the FIA office as he had committed no crime.
In its statement. the PPP questioned the sending of FIA notices to legislators saying that receiving of a message from a source was not an offence under the cybercrime law. “To receive a message from any source on WhatsApp doesn’t constitute an offence under PECA Act 2016 nor under PPC, nor does it establish an acquaintance with the accused. As political persons, thousands of messages, complaints, even spam are received. If an act of simply receiving a message is criminalised, whole country would be in prison,” the PPP statement reads.
The opposition party said the federal agency misused its powers as the apex court had not directed to issue notices to everyone receiving the contemptuous message.
“Although, FIA knows that this text could have been sent to a number of people, how they could be presumed to have commited offence? The PPP cannot be cowed down in the garb of such notices. In addition Supreme Court has not said in its order that everyone who has received message should be issued notice,” the PPP stated.
The PPP claimed that the FIA is misusing its authority and misinterpreting the orders of the Supreme Court. “We fear that like NAB, FIA is being used for political engineering by the PTI government as the former FIA chief has already testified publically. We also call upon the superior judiciary to take notice of harassmemt of parliamentarians and political workers by FIA by using superior judiciary as an excuse,” the party said.
What did the notices say?
The federal agency had used identical wordings in the notice of personal appearance issued to Shahida Rehman, and Qadir Khan Mandokhail, both members of National Assembly.
In the 4th August notice to Shahida Rehman, Member of National Assembly from PPP, the FIA states that an FIR was registered on the complaint of Muhammad Sohail Sajid against Masood ur Rehman Abbas in Cybercrime Reporting Center FIA Islamabad on the charges of delivering contemptuous derogatory and indecent speech against the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan
“The Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan has also initiated contempt petition 0021 of 2021 against Masood ur Rehman Abasi on account of derogatory and contemptuous language against the Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan. During the hearing of contempt petition the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed FIA to probe and investigate all the circumstances and accomplices (if any) that led to delivery of the contemptuous and derogatory speech by Masood ur Rehman Abbas,” the FIA notice reads.
In the notice, the federal agency states that during investigation it was revealed that the accused, Masood-ur-Rehman Abbas, has sent the alleged video to the PPP MNA at 12.15 pm June Jun 18, directing her to appear before an investigation officer at the Karachi FIA office on 13th August. “As, you are well acquainted with the said matter therefore you are directed to appear in-person …..on 13-08-2021 at 10 00AM to provide your statement/version and to answer questions as put forth to you by the investigation officer,” reads the FIA notice.