2 Nov 2022
LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Act has been empowered to act against anyone who intends to spread “rumours and false information against state institutions” on social media after the federal government approved an amendment to the FIA Act with the insertion of the Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 505 relating to statements conducing to public mischief in its scheduled offences.
According to Section 505, statements conducing to public mischief include publication, circulation of any statement, rumour or report that could cause or incite any officer, soldier, sailor, or airman in the Army, Navy or Air Force of Pakistan to mutiny, offence or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such. A person guilty of an offence under Section 505 could face a maximum imprisonment of seven years along with a fine.
The federal cabinet approved a summary on circulation from the Ministry of Interior about the amendments in the schedule of the FIA Act, 1974, on October 27.
According to the summary, the “FIA has intimated that presently, social media is inundated with false information and rumours against state institutions and organisations with the intent to cause or incite or which is likely to cause or incite any officer, solder, sailor or airman in army, navy, or air force of Pakistan to mutiny, offence or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such.”
In the summary, the Interior Ministry said that these rumours and false information were also being disseminated with the intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm in the public or in any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against the public tranquillity.
“FIA has added that these are likely to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community,” the ministry stated in the summary.
The FIA had requested the government that the subject offence could be tried under PPC Section 505 (statement conducing to public mischief), which was currently not included in the schedule of the FIA Act and sought the state’s approval to include the section in its scheduled offences.
AJCON speakers warn against legislation curbing dissent on social media
Speakers comprising digital rights activists, lawyers and journalists, in the session titled “Regulating Social Media: Under what Rules?” at the Asma Jahangir Conference 2022 had warned that the government was bringing legislation to curb dissent and criticism on social media.
Usama Khilji, Director of the digital rights organisation Bolo Bhi, moderated the session on social media regulation in Pakistan. David Kaye, former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Senator Dr Afnan Ullah Khan, Member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT, Matiullah Jan, senior journalist, Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, Mahsa Alimardani, Senior Researcher MENA Region, ARTICLE19 (Iran), and Imaan Mazari-Hazir, lawyer representing journalists facing cyberlaw cases, spoke about social media regulation in Pakistan and around the world.
Nighat Dad said the government had abused cybercrime law to target dissidents, critical voices and journalists in Pakistan. She said laws and regulations on social media had malicious intent.
Nighat Dad said there were good models and precedents around the world on self-regulation of social media. She cited the oversight board of the Meta/Facebook platform as an example of self-regulation by social media platforms.
Imaan Mazari-Hazir said there was no consultation with stakeholders prior to the implementation of social media rules in the country. “The cybercrime law rules exceeded the ambit of the parent law of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act,” she pointed out.
Senator Dr Afnan Ullah Khan said fake news and hate speech had become a global phenomenon. He said there were accusations that Russia had tried to influence US presidential elections through the use of social media technology. He emphasised upon swift passage of the data protection law in Pakistan to protect the privacy of citizens.
Matiullah Jan recommended that independent digital rights organisations compile an annual credibility index of social media sites and platforms to galvanise public opinion over the self-regulation of social media in Pakistan. He also urged civil society organisations to monitor content on social media and compile a list of content that falls into hate speech so that social media users comprehend what can be said or not said on social media in the country.