September 24th, 2020
In a massive crackdown on journalist and social media activists critical towards the government, the Federal Investigation Agency has charged prominent journalists Aizaz Syed, Umar Cheema, Ammar Masood, Asad Ali Toor, Ihtisham Afghan, Murtaza Solangi among 49 social media activists under the cyber crimes for activities ‘found detrimental against the state institutions, especially against the security forces of Pakistan’.
In a statement, the FIA said the agency has received complaints against 49 social media activists from a few complainants with solid proofs and evidence. “Cases have been registered against these activists and FIA is issuing notices to these activists shortly,” the FIA said. The agency warned that strict action was expected against these activists based on the evidence which had been found detrimental against the state institutions, especially against the security forces of Pakistan.
‘The main activists’
“The violators under PECA provisions will not go unpunished and strict action is being initiated against the culprits who have been named in these complaints,” the agency said. The FIA named only Ammar Masood, Aizaz Syed, Asad Ali Toor, Ihtisham Afghan, Murtaza Solangi, and Umar Cheema in its media statement, calling them the main activists included in the complaints. The agency gave out no details of the names of the remaining social media activists. “The total number (of media activists) being charged are 49 as per these complaints.”
The FIA claimed that the agency had found the evidence submitted with the complaints justifiable and fulfilled requirements of legal action under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016. “FIA has found the evidence against these activists justifiable and fulfilling the requirements to legally pursue these as per the PECA -2016 law,” the FIA statement concluded. The agency did not mention details of tweets or posts that were found to be detrimental against the state institutions.
Solangi says won’t surrender fundamental rights
In a tweet after the FIA announcement, one of the journalists charged under the cybercrimes law, Murtaza Solangi said they would continue to fight for constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. “We shall not bow before fascist thuggery,” he tweeted, adding that, “We shall not surrender our fundamental rights.”
PFUJ warns of country-wide protests
In a statement, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called upon the federal government to withdraw the cases against journalists and social media activists, warning otherwise the journalists would hold country-wide protests.
Stop using FIA to curb dissent, HRCP tells govt
In a separate statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the FIA action saying the human rights body was alarmed by the news in circulation that the FIA was registering cases against 49 journalists and social media activists under the PECA regulations. “We demand that the state refrain from such action and stop using the FIA to curb political dissent,” the HRCP said.
The opposition says govt tainting the name of democracy
Following the FIA announcement, Pakistan People’s Party Sherry Rehman condemned the crackdown on social media activists and media persons, calling it a ‘blatant attempt to muzzle independent voices in the media’. “The pretense is over. This govt is now using every tool to coerce, intimidate and censor the press in Pakistan, Sherry Rehman said in her tweet. Rehman said the present government could no longer be called an illiberal democracy. “It is tainting the very name of democracy,” she added.
In a tweet, MNA Mohsin Dawar strongly condemned the harassment of credible journalists and activists including UmarCheema, Murtaza Solangi, Ammar Masood, AsadAToor, Bilal Farooqi, and Ihtesham Afghan. “The attack on freedom of expression continues,” he tweeted. “We stand by all these journalists and activists who speak the truth to power,” he added.