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PTI's Shah Mehmood Qureshi meets detained social media activists at an FIA office in Islamabad.─Twitter
PTI's Shah Mehmood Qureshi meets detained social media activists at an FIA office in Islamabad.─Twitter
─Twitter
─Twitter

The office of a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) volunteer working for the party's social media wing in Peshawar was ransacked by unidentified individuals ahead of the party's decision to launch protests against its workers' 'harassment' by law enforcement agencies.

PTI activist Syed Furqan Kakakhel said the office was his personal space, where he worked as a party volunteer to "promote PTI's vision on social media".

Kakakhel alleged that the office had been ransacked, with electronic equipment, including cameras and a computer hard-drive, missing when he entered the premises Monday morning.

Kakakhel said that he did not know for sure which organisation was responsible for the raid.

PTI's central media cell confirmed the news of the raid and said that Furqan is the secretary of social media for PTI Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

PTI set to launch protest in Islamabad and Karachi

PTI has decided to launch protests in different cities against the alleged harassment of its party workers.

A day earlier, the party had claimed that Owais Khan, another member of PTI's social media team, was taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) over alleged violations of Pakistan's cyber-crime laws.

PTI leader Imran Ismail, while talking to Dawn.com, had confirmed that Owais Khan "was taken into custody [by FIA] on Saturday."

While announcing the Islamabad protest, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary said: "They [the government] are trying to silence us."

"What Chaudhary Nisar is doing will hurt this country," Chaudhary added, referring to the interior minister's orders to the FIA to identify suspects involved in what the ministry calls an “organised” campaign against the country’s armed forces on social media.

"Our social media head's office was raided [in Peshawar] and he believes that the people who did it belonged to the FIA," Chaudhary alleged.

Questioning the FIA's practices, he said: "They have been calling our young activists in for 'investigation' after which they keep them under custody over night."

He added: "It is unacceptable that one of our activists was charged for sharing a 'funny' picture of Nawaz Sharif on social media."

Talking to media, PTI leader Ali Muhammad Khan said: "The army's honour is our own and we condemn any negative propaganda being forwarded about the armed forces; however, the government is using the army as a shield and forwarding its own agenda."

Announcing a protest in Islamabad on Monday, Chaudhary said, "We are protesting in Islamabad today, but if this harassment continues we will take this to the rest of the country."

PTI leader Asad Umer also invited the citizens of Karachi to the protest.

"Join me and other PTI leaders in front of Karachi Press Club at 5pm today, to protest against the harassment of social media activists," he tweeted.

Imran condemns crackdown

In a press conference on Monday, PTI Chief Imran Khan also spoke about the government’s crackdown on people using social media, calling it “anti-democratic”.

“Social media is a new phenomenon in Pakistan, in the world. It can’t be stopped,” he warned.

He said that anyone who has a mobile phone can give an opinion and to stop that would be an encroachment of the people’s freedom of expression.

He criticised the government for cracking down on those expressing their opinion on public forums, “They are going after ordinary people, taking them into custody and questioning them.”

PTI's activists detained and questioned

News of Owais' detention surfaced two days after PTI social media activist Salar Khan was released following days-long detention by the FIA. Earlier, like Salar Khan, Owais had also been summoned to the FIA headquarters.

"I have [been] summoned to be at the FIA HQ today for 10am. I don't know why. Extremely thankful for all your support, just keep going," Owais had tweeted.

The allegations against Owais Khan and Salar Khan have yet to be ascertained.

This is not the first time social media activists from PTI have been arrested by the FIA. Earlier in 2015, the agency had arrested Qazi Jalal in a case of vilification of judges of the superior court by tweeting allegations against them.

Though there was no official word from FIA on the recent arrest, some media reports suggested that people are being questioned and taken into custody as part of a crackdown, being launched by FIA as the agency has finalised a list of 200 people.

The PTI leadership has been accusing the government of using the law to press its political opponents, but according to the report, the supporters of PML-N, who have violated the law, are also placed on the list.

Party stands by its activists

The PTI leaderships has decided to stand by its activists. The party's top brass took to social media to express solidarity and support to its activists in the time on hardships.

PTI has directed its workers to contact the party for assistance and guidance, in case of any such incident. The activists are directed to notify party leadership through email if they see their name on any list list or get summoned by any government organisation.

HRCP hails PTI

The government has been receiving criticism both by civil society forums and political parties. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also came to the support of PTI over the issue. In a statement, published a day ago, HRCP criticised the government over arrests and praised PTI for its stand.

“The HRCP wishes to commend PTI for recognising and flagging up the abuse of the cyber crime law for political victimisation and intimidation of activists and correctly calling it out as unacceptable in a democracy," the statement read.

The HRCP hopes and expects that other political parties will also raise the issue and demand an end to arbitrary curbs on and intimidation of political activists, bloggers, journalists and other civil society activists, it added.

Referring to a report, submitted in the parliament, the HRCP said that since the present government came to power, the cyber crime wing of the FIA has registered nearly 900 cases.