September 22, 2023
By Maryam Missal
On Friday, a judicial magistrate awarded the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) a two-day physical remand of ABN Bureau Chief Islamabad, Khalid Jamil. The senior journalist has been charged under section 20 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, read with section 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), allegedly for stirring anti-state sentiments through his Twitter account.
The state lodged the first information report (FIR) through Anees-ur-Rehman, a technical assistant at the FIA’s Cyber Crime Reporting Cell (CCRC) in Islamabad.
PECA Section 20 pertains to offences against a person’s dignity. It stipulates that intentionally spreading false information through any information system, with the knowledge of its falsehood, which harms the reputation or privacy of a person, can lead to imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of up to one million rupees, or both.
This provision does not apply to content aired by licensed broadcast media or distribution services under the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance, 2002 (XIII of 2002).
Meanwhile, PPC section 505 states that making, publishing, or circulating statements, rumours, or reports with the intent to incite or cause disregard for duty in officers or personnel of the Pakistan Army, Navy, or Air Force can result in charges related to mutiny or offences against duty.
Journalists cannot be arrested at a whim
In May 2022, the Islamabad High Court made it mandatory for the Federal Investigation Agency to seek an opinion from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) before moving any complaints against journalists. Despite these directions, Khalid Jamil was arrested from his house while a picture of his arrest was widely circulated on social media, which gained traction among media professionals and civil society.
A joint statement by the PFUJ was issued hours after his arrest, while the body announced a protest outside Islamabad Press Club following Friday prayers.
The statement not only denounced Khalid’s arrest but also criticised the breach of his privacy and the circulation of the photo which they claimed aimed to damage his reputation.
‘You cannot strike us and expect us not to react’
Subookh Syed, Chairman of Digimap, expressed his strong concerns to Voicepk.net on Jamil’s arrest. He pointed out that the Federal Investigation Agency did not adhere to its own institutional protocols, which require them to first question and interrogate the accused before apprehending them.
Syed also believes that if the FIA disregards its own protocol, it is likely to disregard orders from the IHC as well.
“Khalid Jamil has a right to express his personal opinions, and if there are concerns about him promoting incitement to violence, it should be addressed through consultation with PFUJ or the organization he is affiliated with,”
he said, adding that arresting him is not the solution.
Syed said that while the international community is advocating for freedom of speech and expression, Pakistan seems to be suppressing it.
‘An attack on freedom of speech.’
Arshad Ansari, General Secretary of PFUJ, told Voicepk.net that the Federal Investigation Agency violated the Islamabad High Court’s verdict by arresting Khalid Jamil. He further said, “We are journalists and we should never forget our limits. But law enforcement agencies cannot directly attack us without following its SOPs.”
Comparing the situation of freedom of expression in Pakistan with the rest of the world, he said that caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar must put an end to the crackdown on journalists.
Ansari said that PFUJ is observing a protest against Khalid Jamil’s unlawful arrest and that if he is not released, a call for a nationwide protest will be given.
“We declare this an attack on freedom of speech,” he said.
“We demand that if there is a complaint against a journalist, he should be approached through proper channels. SOPs made by the law enforcement agencies should be followed.”
‘PECA aims to curb voices of resilience’
Iqbal Khattak of Freedom Network, while talking to Voicepk.net, said that the entire case against Jamil is equivalent to banning voices of resistance. He further added that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the right to free speech and expression. The Federal Investigation Agency’s move against a journalist is a violation of the Constitution and the orders of the Islamabad High Court.
“PECA is being used to curb voices of resistance. It is being used against journalists and journalism since its inception,” he opined.
Senior journalist and an advocate of human rights, Munizae Jahangir shared her thoughts on the matter.
“How can there be free and fair elections and a real conversation on people’s rights when citizens are not allowed to express their opinions freely?”