May 23, 2022 – The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has suggested imposing an “exemplary” fine on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) over the authority’s abuse of power under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA).
On Friday, May 20, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, during the hearing of a petition filed by former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Kanwal Shauzab challenging the case registered against her by her neighbours, questioned the FIA’s authorities and its abuse of power under PECA. Justice Minallah remarked why the court should not impose an exemplary fine on FIA officials for abusing power against Shauzab’s neighbours. He raised questions on the harassment of “a decent elderly couple” at the hands of FIA officials and questioned if the case against them could be registered under PECA at all.
The court has directed the FIA’s Deputy Director and investigation officer to submit their response.
On September 23, 2021, Shauzab lodged a complaint with FIA’s Cybercrime Wing claiming that her neighbour Raja Abdul Rehman took photos of her husband trimming the bushes in their garden and posted them on social media. She accused Abdul Rehman of attempting to start a defamation campaign against her husband by implying that they were damaging the environment. A notice was issued to Abdul Rehman by the FIA which he later challenged in the high court. The notice was subsequently dismissed.
Abdul Rehman, however, went on to file a police complaint to register a case against Shauzeb, accusing her of torturing and threatening his wife. A lower court then ordered the registration of the case against Shauzab, which she challenged in the IHC. Although the parties were advised to resolve the matter, the court ruled that the FIA’s abuse of power under PECA was not just restricted to this case. The court stated that it had received several complaints that suggested that the authority often initiates inquiry even on personal conflicts of the citizens and decided to evaluate FIA’s authorities under PECA for registration of such cases.
The FIA has repeatedly drawn criticism for abusing its power under PECA. Last month, ARY journalist Arshad Sharif, through his lawyer, filed a petition against the FIA, accusing the agency of harassment and illegal detention. Subsequently, Justice Minallah ordered the FIA to stop harassing Sharif. The FIA later released a statement calling the reports of Sharif’s arrest “fake news” and “deplorable propaganda” against the agency.
The agency then initiated an inquiry against BOL anchorperson Sami Ibrahim for allegedly spreading “anti-state” content on his social media platforms while staying abroad. Ibrahim’s mother challenged FIA’s notice in the IHC, which restrained the agency from arresting Ibrahim upon his return to Pakistan. According to latest reports, however, more cases have been filed against senior journalists for allegedly criticising state institutions.