The federal government has decided to strengthen the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) by amending the FIA Act to include a section of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that makes spreading misinformation and rumours about state institutions on social media a crime.
Last week, cabinet members approved a summary of revisions to the schedule of the FIA Act, 1974, which was circulated by the Ministry of Interior.
According to the summary, the FIA has stated that social media is currently flooded with false information and rumours against state institutions and organisations with the intent of causing or inciting any officer, soldier, sailor, or airman in Pakistan’s Army, Navy, or Air Force to revolt, offence, or otherwise neglect or fail in his duty as such.
It goes on to say that these rumours and false information were spread with the intent of instilling fear or panic in the general public or any segment of the general public, in order to induce them to commit an offence against the state or against public order.
These are likely to compel any individual or group to commit an offence against another individual or group.
The FIA proposed that the subject matter be prosecutable under PPC Section 505 (relating to public mischief), which was not already on the FIA Act’s schedule, and requested permission from the state to include the provision in its scheduled offences.
Subsection one of PPC Section 505 states that anyone found committing the related offence faces up to seven years in prison as well as a fine.
Previously, they required cabinet approvals and other bureaucratic procedures, according to an anonymous FIA official. They would now be able to act immediately with the introduction of this section.
Farieha Aziz, co-founder of the digital rights organisation Bolo Bhi, responded to the move by saying that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) has recently emerged as the state’s preferred tool against nonconformists. Previously, it was under the jurisdiction of the police and thus required warrants and court permissions, but it appears that the FIA’s hand is being strengthened to avoid processes that require judicial authorization and warrants, allowing the crackdown to be carried out more quickly.