February 21, 2022 – The Islamabad High Court has issued a show cause notice to Director Cybercrime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The notice was issued as a result of declaring the raid conducted on journalist Mohsin Baig’s home as a violation of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016.
The Court asked the FIA to submit a response as to why the Court should not initiate an inquiry against it for abusing the powers granted to the Authority under the Act. It also issued a notice to the Attorney General directing him to defend the Director FIA in the next hearing on February 24.
During the hearing on the petition filed by the Journalist Defence Committee and the wife of journalist Mohsin Baig, Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that we do not have a martial law in the country; the Attorney General should satisfy the Court that why we should not repeal section 20 of PECA.
Justice Athar Minallah remarked the constant misuse of power granted to FIA under PECA is worrying, and this kind of behaviour from any authority or state is unacceptable in every democratic country around the world. He commented that criminal defamation is a private right, not a public right. The FIA cybercrime wing raided the house of Mohsin Baig on February 16 on a complaint of Minister of Communication Murad Saeed for passing derogatory remarks on a TV show which was later shared on social media that allegedly tarnished the reputation of the minister.
The Court said that the FIA’s role is to serve people, and we will not let it become a rogue agency. FIA is currently abusing all the powers granted to it. Director FIA responded to the Court that there are over 14000 complaints under review all over Pakistan, to which the Court asked whether the agency has conducted arrests in all of these cases. The Court highlighted that the federal minister registered the complaint in Lahore, was he there on a visit? Why did FIA not issue a notice as per law before the arrest? The law demands that the FIA conducts an investigation before arresting, so did the FIA raid the house directly before investigating because the complaint was from a federal minister?
Chief Justice Athar Minallah further pointed out that PECA is not applicable in this case since the talk show was aired on television. Director FIA informed the Court that the FIA acted on the complaint after the talk show clips were posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Chief Justice questioned whether the agency inquired if the accused posted the video on social media. He further asked why the FIA did not arrest the other three people on the show who said the same thing on the show.
Director FIA read the statement that Mohsin Baig passed on the show regarding Murad Saeed and said that the reference of the book (that former wife of PM Imran Khan and a journalist Reham Khan wrote) is defamatory. He said that if the law was passed by the parliament, he should not be held liable for it. Whereas, the Additional Attorney General informed the Court that he has not read the book, but knows the contents of the book very well. The Chief Justice said that he is then talking on the basis of assumptions if he has not read the book.
The Court further said that the abuse of power does not save anyone’s reputation, and public offices’ reputation is dependent on the trust of people of the country on them. “This Court will not permit the misuse of powers to anyone,” it remarked.
The Chief Justice said that the complaint did not warrant an arrest even if it was an ordinary complaint. But since this is a public official’s complaint, what message is the agency sending to the public? He said that this is a threat that there is no freedom of expression, and the Court will not tolerate it. Director FIA said in the hearing that the FIA officials are also the children of the Court, and they have also been beaten during the arrest. The Chief Justice responded that neither the officials are his children nor he is their father.
He informed that Pakistan is the 8th worst country for journalists safety in the world, and the reason for this is the misuse of power by the authorities. “Do you want to take this society to stoneage?,” he asked. Whatever the accused did during the arrest is a separate matter that the Court will address.
Advocate Sardar Latif Khosa who is representing the petitioner said that the Prime Minister Imran Khan called a meeting after the federal minister Murad Saeed registered the complaint. He said that a reference is being conducted against the judge who issued the arrest warrant against the journalist, to which the Chief Justice Athar Minallah said that a judge cannot be threatened.
The Court has concluded the application to withdraw the case against Mohsin Baig filed by his lawyer Advocate Latif Khosa, and has asked Director FIA to present before the Court on February 24.