Islamabad High Court Orders FIA to Take Stakeholders Into Confidence on SOPs

Urdu version of the story here.

September 27, 2021: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) said that the FIA should not refer to draconian laws of other countries, rather protection of freedom of speech and right of speech must be done. Significant progress has been made on when the FIA can exercise its powers under PECA, in particular Section 26. The IHC has ordered the FIA to take all stakeholders, including the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), into confidence in the development of the new SOPs being prepared. The court has given them till November 2 to finalise the SOPs. The court also clarified that social media is no longer limited to journalists, there are other stakeholders in shaping public opinion, many of whom represent sections that previously had no voice.

On Monday, Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court Athar Minallah heard petitions against the notices issued by the FIA ​​to former PEMRA chairman Absar Alam and journalist Bilal Ghauri. Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud appeared in court on behalf of the government and the FIA. The court asked why the SOPs made by the FIA ​​were not being implemented. The Additional Attorney General said that there are strict laws in different countries on which the Chief Justice remarked that draconian laws are followed in some countries. The court said the protection of fundamental rights of citizens is the responsibility of the court. The FIA sometimes disregards PECA and goes to the Pakistan Penal Code. Hate speech is circulating on social media on a daily basis but not a single person has been caught. The Additional Attorney General said that it is very difficult to define what hate speech is, but the court ruled that there is a universal definition of hate speech. Inciting religious sentiments by provoking someone is called hate speech or hate speech all over the world.

The IHC directed the FIA ​​to finalize the SOPs by November 2, taking all stakeholders into confidence regarding the exercise of powers under PECA. Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that there should be no impression that the FIA is targeting anyone. If this impression is not removed, then the court will have to give its verdict. The court said that social media is not limited for use by journalists. Those who have no voice in society now also use social media themselves, and even if what they say is wrong, we should still be able to listen to them. It is a very positive indication if all stakeholders are consulted. The FIA was ordered to inform the court on the process before the next hearing so the court can issue a decision in its light. Further hearing of the case will be held on November 2. The Islamabad High Court had earlier directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to amend the Social Media Rules 2020 after consulting all stakeholders.

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