May 10, 2022 – The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has sought explanation from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) over its press release, issued on May 8, against Bol anchorperson Sami Ibrahim that accused him of transmitting “anti-state” videos and statements on social media platforms. An inquiry was initiated against the journalist by the FIA under Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA), which was struck down by the IHC last month.
On Tuesday, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah presided over the hearing of a petition filed by Ibrahim’s mother through their lawyer Raja Amir Abbas to challenge the FIA’s investigation. Abbas told the court that Ibrahim is currently in the United States and will return to Pakistan on Friday, May 14. The press release, which Abbas called “threatening”, was posted after the agency had already sent a notice to Ibrahim.
Justice Minallah remarked that the press release shows that neither a case was registered against Ibrahim nor the inquiry was completed. He said that FIA was doing the same thing before and the court has been repeatedly advising the agency to refrain from taking such actions. He directed the FIA to not arrest Ibrahim upon his return and questioned what exactly from the journalist warranted the press release and whether there was a transcript of his statements.
Justice Minallah has sought explanation from FIA’s Cybercrime Wing Director and ordered him to appear in person at the next hearing on May 16.
In its press release against Ibrahim, the FIA stated, “He [Ibrahim] has made imputations which are glaring attempts to incite armed forces personnel to mutiny,” states the press release. “He has attempted to create chaos in Pakistan through social media while staying abroad.”
The agency also warned overseas Pakistanis to stay away from “offensive and seditious” posts online or they will face legal consequences. The FIA also advised them to read PECA to ensure their social media posts do not constitute any crime.
On April 8, Justice Minallah, in addition to scrapping the PECA Amendment Ordinance 2022, had declared Section 20 of PECA 2016 “unconstitutional” and struck it down as well. Following the order, the FIA had closed around 7,000 complaints filed under the same section. But despite IHC’s ruling, the FIA has repeatedly been targeting journalists under Section 20 of PECA, earning widespread condemnation from journalists. On May 7, the agency challenged the IHC’s order in the Supreme Court, seeking its suspension.
Just hours later, however, Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb stepped in and claimed that the government had no knowledge whatsoever of the petition’s filing. After she announced its withdrawal, the FIA released a statement repeating that it had filed the appeal without informing the government.