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Bring bloggers back if strong evidence exists: IHC

By Faisal Kamal Pasha
April 01, 2017

Orders blasphemy, pornography be dealt with under PECA; blasphemy case disposed of

ISLAMABAD: Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) here on Friday disposed of a petition against blasphemous content on social media with directions to the FIA to investigate the role of five bloggers and if any incriminating material was available, they might be brought back to the country under due process and inquiry may be initiated against them strictly in accordance with the law.

Disposing of the petition, Justice Siddiqui also directed the Ministry of Interior “to identify NGOs operating in Pakistan with an agenda to spread blasphemy and pornography, obviously with financial assistance of different groups within or outside Pakistan.” The IHC bench has also directed the interior ministry to proceed against such NGOs in accordance with the law.

Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf was told by the court that the state institutions responded quite well in this matter except for a few who behaved in an irresponsible manner. The IHC bench told the AGP that there were no laws regarding blasphemy, pornography and false accusations of blasphemy in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA-2016).

Had there been laws in the said act, the situation may not have reached this point, it observed. The court remarked 295-C was not an ordinary law. A person who falsely accuses someone of blasphemy commits three types of crimes, it said. First, he himself commits blasphemy, second he raises false accusations against another person and third he ruins the life of another person. It is utmost necessary to form laws that no one could make false accusations of blasphemy, it said.

The AGP then submitted a copy of the summary forwarded to the prime minister, addressed to the secretary Ministry of Interior, by director legal Ministry of Information Technology for the insertion of offences of pornography, blasphemy and false accusations of blasphemy in the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 in the schedule of the Federal Investigation Agency Act 1974.

The IHC bench noted, “Sensitivity of the issue demands that in case of any fresh complaint, same may be incorporated to conduct initial inquiry and then to proceed in accordance with law.”

Expressing satisfaction over the reply of the AGP, the IHC bench noted, “Since Attorney General of Pakistan has already taken an initiative with regard to insertion of blasphemy and pornography in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA-2016) and also to address the issue of penal consequences of false accusation of blasphemy, it is expected that the authorities concerned shall proceed in the matter by appreciating the delicacy of the issue to take some appropriate steps within one month from today March 31, 2017.”

The IHC bench inquired of the Director FIA Mazharul Haq Kakakhail that whether they got their response ready regarding the questions that how five bloggers went out of the country and about NGOs promoting blasphemy and pornography inside the country. The director FIA then submitted a two-page reply. At this, the IHC bench remarked that there were several issues beyond the control of this court but there was a hope that the FIA will actively pursue this matter. Legal counsel for the petitioner, Tariq Asad, expressed his dissatisfaction over the matter, saying that nothing had been done against the bloggers.

In the matter of bloggers, the IHC bench directed the FIA to proceed in this case purely on the basis of merit and in accordance with the law. “We are disposing of this petition with a short order. Detailed judgment will be issued later on. It is not a matter of victory or defeat for someone but this is a matter of our faiths,” Justice Siddiqui remarked.

Justice Siddiqui directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to evolve some comprehensive and delicate mechanism to identify the pages/websites containing blasphemy contents in order to take some remedial steps forthwith.

The bench directed Chairman PTA Ismail Shah to ensure that a scientific mechanism is evolved to bring an awareness about blasphemy and pornography with penal consequences under the law.

The bench has directed secretary Ministry of Interior to constitute a penal/committee with participation of concerned individuals/departments to launch a comprehensive campaign in order to erode the blasphemous content from social media, identification of persons involved in this sinful act and to deal with them in accordance with law.

In the last hearing, Justice Siddiqui had asked the respondents to proceed in this matter step by step. First utilise the forum of OIC and then go for the United Nations, he had said.