September 25th, 2020

By Rehan Piracha & Ahmed Saeed


Shireen Mazari, federal minister for human rights, has clarified that the Federal Investigation Agency did not lodge FIRs against journalists and social media activists under the country’s cybercrimes law.

However, the minister in a tweet did confirm that the agency had received a private citizen’s complaint against 12 journalists.

Social media and tv news channels had highlighted that in a crackdown on journalists FIA had charged 49 journalists & social media activists under the cyber crimes for activities ‘found detrimental against the state institutions, especially against the security forces of Pakistan. Prominent amongst them are Aizaz Syed, Umar Cheema, Ammar Masood, Asad Ali Toor, Ihtisham Afghan, and Murtaza Solangi.  The report was based on a WhatsApp message said to be from the Federal Investigation Agency circulated to broadcast channels. The news had caused an uproar with condemnation pouring in from journalists, rights bodies, and opposition leaders.

Sensing the outcry, Mazari said she checked the ‘disturbing news’ and found it to be incorrect. “A private citizen has sent (a) complaint to FIA against around 12 journalists,” she clarified in her tweet. The human rights minister said that the FIA examined all complaints but no first investigation report (FIR) has yet been registered against the 12 journalists on the basis of the complaint filed by a private citizen.  “FIA can’t register an FIR under PECA (Pakistan Electronic Crime Act)  without following specified legal procedure,” Mazari added. The minister did not give out the names of the journalists mentioned in the complaint.

The human rights minister pointed out that she could follow up further with authorities if given any evidence of any such FIRs registered against journalists and social media activists.  “If anyone has contrary evidence in terms of FIRs do let me know so I can follow up further,” the minister concluded in her tweet.

Separately, while speaking to on condition of anonymity an official at the FIA also denied that any cases were registered against social media activists and journalists. But till the writing of this report, the FIA has not issued a formal clarification about the reports of cases being registered against 49 social media activists and journalists.

Speaking to on the phone from Islamabad, journalist Aizaz  Syed said he had not been contacted by the FIA yet over any such case. Syed said that according to his sources in the FIA no cases against journalists and social media activists have been registered as reported earlier.

Murtaza Solangi, another prominent journalist reported to be among the 49 charged by the FIA, said the news of FIRs being lodged was planted in the media to frighten journalists and social media activists. He said journalists in the country had withstood many repressive regimes of military dictators like Ayub, Zia, and Musharraf. “Whosoever is doing this has no sense of Pakistan’s history, let alone world history,” he remarked.