May 9, 2022 – Federal Minister for Information Marriyam Aurangzeb responded on Saturday to the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) petition in the Supreme Court seeking the suspension of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order on constitutionality of Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA), confirming that the application had been withdrawn. The IHC had declared Section 20 of PECA “unconstitutional” last month.
Aurangzeb’s statement came just hours after the FIA challenged IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah’s order, passed on April 8, in the Supreme Court. In its appeal, the FIA argued that the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) was provided relief by the court “without any lawful justification” and that the inactivity of Section 20 following the ruling would result in violations. The agency was seeking stay against the order until a verdict on its petition was announced.
Aurangzeb, however, claimed that she and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif were not aware of the FIA’s appeal.
“The Prime Minister and I learned a short while ago that the FIA has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the IHC judgment regarding PECA 2016 to seek restoration of Section 20 of the act,” Aurangzeb tweeted. “Please note that this petition stands withdrawn immediately, as it is squarely against the government’s stated policy and principle of standing for and ensuring freedom of expression.”
The minister went on to add, “Unfortunately, the news of this petition was a little late to reach us due to the fact that we were in Bisham during the day and there were no signals.”
The Prime Minister and I learned a short while ago that FIA has filed a petition in SC against the IHC Judgement regarding PECA Act 2016 to seek restoration of section 20 of the Act.1/3
— Marriyum Aurangzeb (@Marriyum_A) May 7, 2022
Aurangzeb’s tweets were followed by a statement from the FIA.
“The FIA filed [an] appeal in the Supreme Court regarding striking off a portion of Section 20 of PECA 2016,” the agency stated. “The FIA filed it without getting permission from the Ministry of Interior and the Government. The appeal is being withdrawn immediately.”
The FIA filed appeal in the Supreme Court regarding striking off a portion of section 20 of PECA 2016. The FIA filed it without getting permission from the Ministry of Interior & Government. The appeal is being withdrawn immediately.
From: Spokesperson FIA.
— Federal Investigation Agency – FIA (@FIA_Agency) May 7, 2022
The statements from both Marriyum Aurangzeb and FIA raised concerns and questions as to whether the agency had the authority to challenge the ruling without seeking approval from the government, as claimed by Aurangzeb.
Remarkable that an LEA went ahead and filed the petition apparently without the knowledge of federal government. Can FIA legally do this?https://t.co/1IFRnevlcH
— Hija Kamran (@hijakamran) May 7, 2022
Q for lawyers: Whose authorisation is required to file such a petition? Is the FIA, as a statutory body, at liberty to do so independent of the interior ministry/fed govt? How do you see independence of LEAs & legal/policy positions/pursuits such as this?https://t.co/cF62lmf8QT
— Farieha Aziz (@FariehaAziz) May 7, 2022
On April 19, Aurangzeb announced at a press conference that the government would review PECA for any gaps that misconstrue freedom of speech as laid down in the Constitution. She promised that no “black law” that restricts the constitutional right to free speech would be enacted or worked upon. Her statement was received well, but the FIA’s appeal to restore the scrapped portion of PECA renewed the debate whether the PML-N government, which had brought in the cybercrime act in 2016, had really learnt from its mistakes and was taking concrete steps to mend them.
Since coming into power after ousting Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Chief Imran Khan, the PML-N has, on various occasions, said that it would work towards media freedom and protection of journalists. But the FIA’s continued targeting of journalists and social media activists belonging to political parties has attracted widespread condemnation and raised questions on the government’s promises.