February 1, 2021 – Can FIA exert authority under PECA that contradict the Constitution of Pakistan? After PTA, Islamabad High Court (IHC) questions FIA’s authorities.
IHC has summoned FIA Director General after a notice was issued under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, to a citizen Raja Abdul Rehman after an application filed against him by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s member of National Assembly Kanwal Shauzab. The Court suggested that the DG FIA should authorise a representative officer who would appear before the Court to respond on behalf of FIA. While raising critical legal questions, the Court has appointed Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council and President Islamabad Bar Association as amici in the case. After consulting with all stakeholders, the Court will determine whether under any law can FIA take actions to limit the Constitutional freedom of expression granted under Article 19.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the Court has repeatedly been receiving such complaints about FIA, hence it would be suitable that the Court seeks answers from the Authority along with consulting with amicus on the matter to better determine the extent of the powers vested upon FIA under the cybercrime law.
Kanwal Shauzab filed a complaint to FIA cybercrime wing last year on September 23 where she claimed that her neighbour Raja Abdul Rehman took pictures of her husband cutting bushes in their garden, and posted them on social media in attempts to start a campaign to defame him by implying that they are damaging the environment. FIA issued notice to the resident on receiving the complaint which he later challenged in High Court. The Court later dismissed the notice issued by FIA.
Abdul Rehman also filed an application to register a complaint against Shauzab in a police station where he accused Shauzab of torturing and threatening his wife. A Lower Court had ordered the registration of the case against Shauzab which she challenged in IHC. The IHC has recommended the parties to resolve the matter.
On Monday, the IHC heard the case again where Shauzab’s legal representative Advocate Qasim Nawaz Abbasi told the Court that the parties have agreed on their conditions to resolve the matter. However, the Court ruled that this matter is not restricted to one case only, instead, it has received similar complaints about FIA multiple times that suggest the Authority starts investigation on personal conflicts of the citizens as well. The Court held that since the Federal Investigations Agency has been using PECA for such cases, it is best that extent of its powers are evaluated under the Act.
The Court has instructed DG FIA Wajid Zia to appoint an authorised officer who must submit the Agency’s response in the Court in the matter within two weeks. Along with this, the Court has sought comments of Vice Chancellor Pakistan Bar Association and President Islamabad Bar Association in the case regarding whether FIA has authority under PECA to conduct investigation against anyone for exerting their right to free speech; and whether it can stifle protections guaranteed under the Constitution. Both amici and FIA have been asked to submit responses in the Court within two weeks.