The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) issued notices on August 4 to three Sindh ministers, five members of the National Assembly and other Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders, official sources told Dawn.
The individuals were told to appear in person in a case of “delivering contemptuous, derogatory and indecent speeches” against the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP). They have been directed to appear in person at FIA Cyber Crime Reporting Centre in Gulistan-i-Jauhar on Aug 12 “to provide statement, version and to answer questions as put forth.”
The FIA had registered an FIR against PPP activist Masoodur Rehman Abbasi on a complaint lodged by Mohammed Sohail Sajid under Sections 10, 11, 20 of PECA and Sections 500, 505 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The Supreme Court in June issued a show-cause notice to Abbasi, whose video speaking about the CJP had gone viral on social media.
The FIA’s Cyber Crime Centre (CRC) has sent notices for personal appearance to Syeda Shehla Raza, Saeed Ghani and Nasir Husain Shah, all of whom provincial ministers. The CRC also sent notices to five MNAs namely Ms. Naz Baloch, Dr. Nafisa Shah, Ms. Shahida Rehmani, Qadir Khan Mandokhel, Abdul Qadir Patel and other PPP leaders.
“During investigation, it came on record, that the accused, Masood Abbasi has sent the alleged video to the said personalities on June 17 and June 18, respectively”, according to contents of the notices sent by Imran Haider, assistant director CRC of the FIA.
The FIA believed that the said individuals were “well acquainted with the matter.”
The federal body decide to send notices to the PPP leaders for personal appearance under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code as “during the contempt petition, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed the FIA to probe and investigate all the circumstances and accomplices (if any) that led to delivery of the contemptuous and derogatory speech by Masood Rehman Abbasi.”
The FIA has sent almost identical notice barring date in two notices, and also sent one to MNA Abdul Qadir Patel over words allegedly used by him when the lawmaker received the aforementioned video of the speech. The FIA notice claimed that after receiving the alleged video at 12:50pm on June 17, Patel observed that the accused had shown “courage,” and had said “long live and great”.
Talking about the notice, PPP National Assembly member Naz Baloch said that she had received the FIA notice through WhatsApp and that “this notice was the most heinous example of political revenge.” Baloch noted that sending FIA notices to other party members because of one individual, whose statement was strongly condemned by the party, is nothing but a form of political revenge of this government.
She further added that she had never met the individual and “the notice was issued only on the grounds that the person had sent us the video through WhatsApp.”
Baloch further expressed that, “We are a political personalities and thousands of people send messages to them, out of which we see some messages and some we do not.” She added, “It is strange to get a notice because someone sent a message, while there are no such rules against this.” According to Naz Baloch, she did not even open the message when it was sent to her.
FIA under pressure from Islamabad High Court
The FIA’s practice of sending vague notices on short notice to journalists has been called into question in the past, particularly by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
Nadeem Malik, a senior journalist and president of Samaa TV, received a notice on July 2 from the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing, asking him to appear on July 6. The case was to be heard in the anti-cyber crime court and not in the anti-terrorism court. However, on July 27 last year, the Islamabad Anti-Terrorism Court ruled that the case was not related to terrorism. The directive came as IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed the hearing of a case against successive notices issued by the FIA’s Cybercrime wing to the citizens, especially journalists.
The IHC on July 30 sought a report from the FIA on the implementation of standard operating procedures to stop misuse of the cybercrimes law and directed the agency to consult representative organisations of journalists on the matter.
However, the FIA could not prepare and present SOPs that would prevent future harassment of journalists. The IHC has expressed anger over the FIA and has given a one-week extension for the development of the SOPs.