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May 22, 2017

Crackdown on social media activists ordered

National

May 22, 2017

Maligning state institutions

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has ordered large scale crackdown against those who were accused of posting anti state content as well as maligning state's institutions, military in particular.  

The country’s top agency countering cyber crimes sought help of Facebook, Twitter and Google to stop extremists and hate mongers who posted unwanted material against Pakistan, its military and Islam.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is investigating some 41 people for posting anti-state content on different social media sites. “Some two dozen people suspected of publishing hate materials are in our custody and it also includes some eight activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N),” a senior official of FIA disclosed on Sunday.

“Social media activists who created fake online [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) accounts just to malign Pakistan, its institutions or to take revenge on other people or settle their political scores are to face tougher action through FIA prosecutors,” added the official who is part of FIA’s fresh drive against social media activists.

The FIA investigators questioned some eight workers of PTI and PML-N who were accused of posting hate materials against Pakistan military, officials went on to say. Four people are being questioned by investigators who were allegedly posting blasphemous content on social media, they revealed. FIA team also quizzed three offenders who were accused of maligning chief justice of Pakistan and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court, they added.

The FIA Islamabad office through Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) requested social networking sites to preserve data of some 1,001 social media accounts in past six months, FIA officials said. Offenders who create phoney profiles on Facebook and Twitter could face charges including terrorism, anti-state and harassment, they added. PTA also requested social media sites either to restrict or block around 400 accounts of Facebook and Twitter with around a dozen websites which were spreading unwanted content against the state, informed officials said.

FIA teams received more than 11,053 complaints in past 15 months, official data exclusively obtained by this correspondent revealed. Around 20,180 complaints were sent to all regional offices of FIA by citizens from 2011 to April 2017, added the data.

Over 4,501 inquires were ordered by FIA investigators against over 20,180 complaints during this period, official data continued to reveal. Around 1,200 inquiries were filed in past sixteen months, read the data which further revealed that some 879 cases were filed by the investigators against the offenders. Some 240 social media activists also faced cases in past fifteen months, read the official data.

Meanwhile, official sources confided to this correspondent that FIA was facing capacity problem as it could not handle piling pressure of rising numbers of complaints on daily basis.

The agency also wanted some amendments to the newly passed laws — Protection of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 as according to officials concerned it was difficult to quickly prosecute the offenders.

The FIA wanted more power under the PECA 2016 just to nip this uncontrolled evil, sources said under the new laws; around 210 cases have been filed in different special courts. Only one case was decided by a local court last week where it (court) awarded 18-month imprisonment with fine of Rs200,000 to a man who created a fake Facebook account of a girl in Lahore. About nature of cyber cases, FIA investigators said it was ranging from 'revenge pornography to blasphemous content'.

The crackdown on social media activists, critics said, was creating a climate of fear and promoting self censorship among other social media users which was contrary to the principles of democracy.

PTI's Shah Mahmood Qureshi who met his activists picked by FIA said, “We stand by our [detained] activists and their families. Freedom of expression and democracy go hand-in-hand."

As government earned harsh criticism on kicking off this move, Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation opined: “Social media is a space for people, exercising their freedom of expression and access to opinion by sharing news, being critical to state actions etc., state needs to explain how they define criticism, defamation, hate speech and what law they are using to crack down on social media activists.”

 

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