FIA exceeded its domain by filing FIR for tweet: IHC

Court says registration of case aimed at ‘enforcing illegal censorship of speech'

Photo: File

ISLAMABAD:

The Islamabad High Court on Saturday ruled that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had exceeded its jurisdiction by registering of a case over a controversial tweet and dismissed the charges against the petitioner.

The court observed that no offense was committed by merely tweeting on any trend.

“It is inconceivable how the publication of the tweet from an insignificant twitter account can cause or incite officers of the military to mutiny or otherwise disregard their duties,” read a judgment authored by IHC’s Justice Babar Sattar.

“It is equally inconceivable how such tweet could cause fear or alarm within public causing a member of such public to commit an offence against the State or against the public,” it added.

The verdict read that it was also not disputed that Section 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) was not included in the FIA Act, 1974 schedule.

“Consequently, [the] FIA was not vested with jurisdiction to take cognisance of any complaint alleging the commission of an offence under Section 505 of [the] PPC,” it stated.

The judgment further read that Section 500 of the PPC related to defamation. It was defined under Section 499 of the PPC as publishing words that would harm the reputation of a person.

It added that Section 501 of the PPC dealt with printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory.

“The text of the aforecited tweet does not name or mention any individual. It can, therefore, not be deemed defamatory to any individual given that it simply does not identify one. And consequently a plain reading of the tweet does not seem to attract the provisions of Sections 500 or 501 of [the] PPC,” the verdict added.

The court ruled that by initiating such a misconceived criminal action against a citizen in breach of requirements of Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) as well as Articles 4, 9 and 19 of the Constitution, the FIA did nothing other than attract “opprobrium” and subjected the State to mockery, ridicule and suspicion.

Also read: FIA to curb ‘social media rumourmongering’

“Tweeting in relation to any trend cannot itself attract criminal liability unless the words used in the tweet constitute as offensive under a penal statute. The words in the tweet in question attracted no criminal liability. Instead of indulging in such obsequious behaviour to carry favour with public officials in high offices, [the] FIA and the Ministry of Interior would do well by focusing on the discharge of their lawful duties and obligations in providing security to the citizens,” the judgment read.

The court also noted that the registration of the FIR was an abuse of the process of law aimed at enforcing illegal censorship of speech.

The Twitter user had spoken of enforced disappearances while referring to ‘Vigo vehicle’.

The government had recently authorised the FIA to take action against those who intended to spread “rumours and false information against state institutions” on social media.

On October 27, the federal cabinet approved an amendment to the FIA Act, 1974 with a section of the PPC for this purpose.

It gave the nod to a summary on circulation from the interior ministry for changes in the FIA law.

“[The] FIA has intimated that presently, social media is inundated with false information and rumours against state institutions and organisations with intent to cause or incite or which is likely to cause or incite any officer, solder, sailor or airman in army, navy, or air force of Pakistan to mutiny, offence or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such,” the summary read.

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