For the past week or so, several people have been arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and hundreds are being investigated for maligning the name of Pakistan Army over social media.
The development has resulted in a lot of controversy as some members of various political parties were also taken into custody over their posts online.
Following the Dawn Leaks issue, Pakistan army has been facing the ire of some social media users who weren’t happy about how things played out.
After the government issued a notification regarding the resolution of the Dawn Leaks case between the military and civilian authorities, DG ISPR, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, issued and after some time, withdrew a controversial tweet which rejected the government’s notification.
Political parties and analysts criticized the army over its leniency. Jokes and posts ridiculing the armed forces started getting shared after the ISPR’s official’s press conference that stated that the matter had been settled.
Interior Ministry’s Orders
Some overzealous social media users who were displeased with the conclusion of the Dawn Leaks case, took it as the army’s weakness as the institution did not take a firm stand on the matter.
Jokes, factually incorrect videos and other such content began to trend on social media that was against the Pakistan Army. On 14th May, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, asked the FIA’s cyber crime wing to take action against those who had begun an anti-army campaign on social media platforms.
According to him, criminal acts of disrespecting the security forces and other institutions without any warrantable cause are illegal and cannot be tolerated under constitutional guidelines. Irrespective of what political party they belonged to.
TV Channels were ordered not to air any anti-Pakistan army content during broadcasts as well, given the post-Dawn Leaks coverage on the media.
Social Media Crackdown
FIA initiated the probe by collecting details of bloggers posting anti-army content on social media. A total of 12 websites were traced as original sources that served propaganda against the armed forces. During the same time, it was said that people belonging to some political parties have also been feeding the anti-army agenda.
The anti-army campaign immediately became political when the authorities started accusing hundreds of political activists from opposition parties without proper evidence or investigation.
Political victimization became apparent when a PTI social media activist, Salar Kakar from Balochistan, was called to present himself to the FIA along with his personal laptop and mobile. Meanwhile several other PTI social media activists were also arrested. Naeem-ul-Haq, spokesperson PTI, disassociated the party from Salar’s remarks.
This annoyed the PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, who threatened the government to stop abusing the Cyber Crime law for political gains and termed it “unacceptable in a democracy”. He warned that if the government does not stop political victimization of innocent political activists, the party would take to the streets and protest.
Salar Kakar, along with several other PTI members, were released the very next day. The action was taken by the Counter-Terrorism Wing of the FIA instead of its Cyber Crime Wing. According to an FIA official, 22 people, mostly from PTI and PMLN, were taken into custody by the FIA.
The FIA has prepared a list of over 200 people who will be questioned or detained for anti-army posts or tweets. These include some journalists and social media activists from both PMLN and PTI. Sources say that 40 people have already been arrested and their laptops, mobiles and tablets have been forwarded for forensic evaluation.
Taha Siddiqui, a local journalist, has filed a petition against the FIA in the Islamabad High Court. He claims he was harassed by the Counter-Terrorism Department and was called by an FIA official to appear at their headquarters for an “interrogation concerning issues and opinions Taha had written involving his professional work.”
A member of PMLN, Dr Faisal Ranjha, was also arrested for anti-army posts. He was later disowned by his party.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is also planning to protest in front of Karachi Press Club as Imran Khan claims that the government is “shutting down democracy.”
Considering the way things are progressing, there is still a lot more to come. Several PTI and PML-N members have been detained and then released based on their alleged social media activities. Be it for the maintenance of public order or another round of political victimization from the powers that be, we have not seen the end of it.
The issue has kicked off an important debate about the cyber crime law. The Cybercrime law was meant to strengthen freedom of expression, allow for more online security and guarantee digital rights. Many harassers and blackmailers online were arrested due to the cybercrime law.
That of course, does not mean that the law doesnt have its issues. Misuse of such a law could have long-term repercussions. It would be best for everyone if the perpetrators of the anti-army campaign are apprehended, backed by the evidence against them.