ISLAMABAD: The director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Bashir Ahmed, informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday that investigators could not find any evidence against some bloggers accused of posting sacrilegious content online.

He, however, said the FIA was in contact with Interpol to bring the bloggers back to Pakistan.

While hearing a petition filed against alleged uploading of objectionable material on social media, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui directed the FIA director general not to proceed against the blogger(s) against whom the investigation agency lacked evidence.

Lawyer tells IHC govt set to include provisions against sacrilegious content, pornography in cybercrime law

“The FIA officials told the court it... seems the five bloggers were not involved in blasphemy,” Tariq Asad, one of the lawyers bringing the charge against the activists, told AFP.

“The judge remarked that no innocent person should be implicated in a false case of blasphemy,” Mr Asad said.

The men, who used social media to stand against religious intolerance and at times criticised the military, vanished within days of each other in January, sparking fears of a state crackdown.

Four of them have since been released, with some accusing their captors of torture. No group claimed responsibility for their abduction, and the government and military have denied involvement.

But during their disappearance, a virulent social media campaign to paint them as blasphemers began, triggering a flood of threats.

The senior FIA official, meanwhile, asserted that the existing set-up could counter the offences relating to blasphemy and pornography, but submitted that he needed support of the federal government to improve his organisation’s functioning.

Subsequently, the court directed him to submit a request in writing to special secretary of interior ministry.

Additional Attorney General Afnan Karim Kundi informed the court that the federal government was amending the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, to include blasphemy and pornography as scheduled offences in the cybercrime law.

He submitted a draft of the amendment to Justice Siddiqui along with the comparative statement of the existing and proposed provisions of PECA.

He informed the court that second chapter of PECA would be amended to add these offences. This chapter describes 28 cognisable offences.

Mr Kundi also informed the court that the law ministry wanted to amend the law to ensure that appropriate punishment was awarded to false accuser in a case involving blasphemy charges.

A special secretary of the interior ministry, Rizwan Malik, told the court that his ministry was compiling a report on the working of nongovernmental organisations that were allegedly advancing the agenda of foreign countries. The court directed him to submit an independent report in this regard, showing the steps taken and measures adopted in the wake of the court’s directions of March this year.

An official of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) informed the court that the authority in 2008 had installed a silencer system but it was limited to audio/video recognition and the PTA was trying to enlist the government’s help in order to bring in a sophisticated system to keep a check on social networking sites.

He further informed the court that in order to implement the judgement passed on the said petition in March this year, PTA had launched an awareness campaign through text messages.

Justice Siddiqui observed that such steps were nothing but “an illusion” as they did not meet the requirement of a “comprehensive and effective campaign”.

He noted that when all the media houses and television channels had bounded themselves to a code of conduct, why 10 per cent of airtime was not being set aside for public service messages.

“This is naked violation of the code of conduct to which all the stakeholders, including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, is signatory,” Justice Siddiqui observed.

“It is amazing to note that almost all the TV channels are not adhering to the requirements of the code of conduct,” he said.

Justice Siddiqui directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to submit details of all the channels with regard to telecast of public service messages.

The judge asked the information ministry as well as Pemra to supervise preparation of public service messages and invite all the channels to run these messages as per their written consent for the code of conduct.

The court sought reports from the information ministry and interior secretary by January 15 regarding steps taken for implementing its March verdict and adjourned further hearing of the matter till January 26.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2017