FIA closes 7,000 cases filed under amended PECA ordinance

Originally published in Dawn on April 11th, 2022

LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has closed nearly 7,000 inquiries/actions initiated countrywide under section 20 of the recently promulgated Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Act (PECA) Ordinance of 2022.

A majority of these complaints were related to defamation and serious threats the citizens were receiving from the Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The decision came when the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday last declared amendments to PECA through an ordinance promulgated in February this year as “unconstitutional”.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah declared that the offence under section 20 of the PECA 2016 to the extent of the expression “or harms the reputation” and the punishment thereof was unconstitutional, invalid beyond a reasonable doubt.

An official privy to the development told Dawn on Sunday the FIA’s cyber wing had lodged 7,000 cases/inquiries under section 20 of the PECA and closed down all of them to ensure implementation on the court orders.

While sharing some official figures, he said the action was initiated on the 70 percent of the total complaints filed by the women who were harassed on social media by “known and unknown persons”.

A majority of them were female students of the public and private sector universities and other educational institutions.

“Over 60 per cent of the total complaints of women were filed against the people for sexually harassing them using Facebook accounts,” the FIA official said.

Suspects were also running the Facebook accounts in the names of the women complainants misusing their photographs and personal information.

The famous defamation case of singer Meesha Shafi was also one of them, which the FIA had proceeded it under section 20 of PECA.

“The other famous cases against the top journalists of Islamabad, which were lodged against them have already been withdrawn or closed,” he said, adding that out of the total 7,000 cases/inquiries, 50 percent were lodged against the suspects in Punjab.

The PECA Ordinance drew attention when the FIA acted against journalists Asad Toor, Absar Alam, Mohsin Baig, Imran Shafqat, etc.

It was later challenged in the IHC after the opposition parties also raised serious objections, declaring it a glaring example of abuse of power to silence the opponents’ voices against injustice.

“Most of the suspects were from Lahore, followed by Karachi,” the official said, adding that the cyber wing of the FIA has now stopped receiving complaints under section 20 of the PECA.

He said all the officers concerned in the country have been issued instructions officially not to entertain such complaints in future.

“Now we are just receiving a limited number of complaints that were not pertaining to section 20 of PECA,” he said.

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