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Sunday December 04, 2022

FIA given powers to crack down on social media hatemongers

Anyone found committing a relevant offence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, along with a fine, says summary approved by Cabinet

November 02, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet in this undated photo. — APP/File
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet in this undated photo. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been armed with powers to clamp down on social media disinformers, propagandists, hatemongers, and the runners of smear drives against the ‘institutions’ of the state and also to jail the guilty for up to seven years.

The agency was empowered through an amendment to the FIA Act, 1974, approved by the federal government a day earlier.

Late last month, cabinet members passed a summary on circulation from the Ministry of Interior about the amendments in the schedule of the Act.

As the cabinet couldn’t meet because of Prime Minister’s unavailability, the summary was given a go-ahead through circulation.

According to the summary, 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, 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.

The summary further said 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,” it said.

The government was informed that the subject offence could be tried under Section 505 (statement conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 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.

According to sub-section one of PPC Section 505, anyone found committing a relevant offence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, along with a fine.

In February of this year, President Arif Alvi approved an ordinance of a similar nature proposing amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, (PECA) 2016. The ordinance was signed by the president when the Imran Khan-led government's cabinet had approved it.

The law, back then, proposed a five-year sentence for criticising state institutions, including the Pakistan Army, judiciary and others on electronic media.

However, in April of this year, the Islamabad High Court declared the ordinance "unconstitutional" and directed the federal government to probe abuse of the law and submit a report.

The media bodies had challenged the “draconian law” in the IHC following countrywide protests.

Journalist associations, including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) and some senior journalists of the country, had filed the petition through senior lawyer Munir A Malik.