The government has given the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) authorization to indict those who spread false information on social media, as well as those who stir up hatred and specifically those who organise campaigns to defame state “institutions,” and to sentence them to up to seven years in judicial custody.
Following approval of an amendment to the 1974 FIA Act by the federal government, the agency was given this authority.
Cabinet members circulated a summary of the Act’s timetable changes late last month, which was provided by the Ministry of the Interior.
The summary was given the all-clear by way of distribution because the cabinet was unable to convene due to the Prime Minister’s unavailability.
In the summary, it is stated that the FIA has indicated that false information and rumours are currently being spread on social media about government institutions and organisations to incite mutiny or other misconduct among Pakistani army, navy, or air force officers, soldiers, sailors, or airmen.
According to the summary, these rumours and false information are also being spread to incite fear or anxiety in the general public or in any subset of the public, which might lead to someone being persuaded to commit an offence against the state or public tranquillity.
This was followed by the statement, “FIA has added that these are likely to incite any class or community of people to commit any offence against any class or community.”
The government requested state approval to add Section 505 (statement conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which was not currently listed in the schedule of the FIA Act, to its list of scheduled offences after learning that the subject offence could be tried under that section.
Anyone found guilty of a related offence is subject to a fine and a period of imprisonment that may reach seven years, according to PPC Section 505’s sub-section one.
President Arif Alvi signed an ordinance similar to this one in February of this year, proposing amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. After the cabinet of the Imran Khan-led administration gave its approval, the president signed the ordinance.
The law at the time recommended a five-year sentence for criticising government institutions on electronic media, including the Pakistan Army, the judiciary, and others.
However, the Islamabad High Court declared the ordinance “unconstitutional” in April of this year and ordered the federal government to look into instances of law misuse and submit a report.
Following public protests, the media organisations have contested the “draconian law” before the IHC.
The petition was filed by a group of journalist associations, including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), and a few senior journalists from the country.