August 17th, 2020
By MT NAQVI
Police in Azad Kashmir have registered a case against 19 media platforms and journalists for cyber crimes including anti-state activities, propaganda, defamation, and blackmail. Media workers have condemned the move as an attempt to threaten and intimidate media workers critical of the government.
The case was filed under the centuries-old 1885 Telegraph Act in the Khoi Ratta Police Station of district Kotli, located about 175km away from the capital Mufazarabad.
The complaint was lodged by Azhar Malik, president of the local press club. Malik in his complaint accused the 19 media platforms and journalists associated with these platforms of propaganda, activities against national security, defamation, blackmail, and impersonation of media persons. In the complaint, Malik accused platforms of posting material that was being used by Indian channels to malign Pakistan. Malik said the media platforms had no links with neither broadcast channels nor newspapers and were not affiliated with the Press Foundation, a government-recognized organization working for the welfare of the media workers.
Afzaal, a local correspondent of a national Urdu news channel 92 News, termed it political victimization. Afzaal, who is one of the media persons accused in the case, told VoicePk.net that the case was mala fide and result of the collusion of the police and the complainant. The accused journalists were paying the price of performing their duties, Afzaal told Voice.pk. “I have been a journalist for about 10 years. I run a page and anybody can search that I have not said or written anything against national security,” Afzal added.
The case said to be first of its kind in the state, has caused concern about freedom of expression among the public and legal fraternity. Interestingly, police did not make use of a new cybercrime law which the Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly recently passed in February 2020. The case curtails freedom of speech and expression, Raja Zaighum Iftikhar told Voice.pk. “Everybody has the right to express his/her opinion.” If a person is indulging in propaganda, either a common person or journalist, authorities can act against them. However, a person or journalist is expressing his opinion in good faith such acts against them will be considered mala fide,” Raja Zaighum Iftikhar said.
In the complaint, Malik had asked police to act against the journalists operating these platforms as they were not affiliated with the Press Foundation. “This is sheer exploitation of the media workers,” a journalist told Voice.pk. You are not bringing in any evidence or proof. And you are acting unilaterally. This points that you are simply victimizing the accused,” another journalist said.
“If a journalist is expressing his/her opinion on social media pages, you cannot slap laws against anti-state activities on them in order to silence them or threaten them. This never happens in other parts of the world,” a senior journalist told Voice.pk.