ISLAMABAD: More than 20 days after an earlier move of this kind had to be thwarted by the government, the interior ministry has again ordered an inquiry over the criticism involving Saudi Arabia on social media.

On the directives of the interior ministry, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has assigned the inquiry against some individuals and four entities to its cybercrime wing, but the challenge for the agency will be to frame charges against the suspects.

“Technically there is an issue. Criticism on social media or anywhere else within the norms of the society is not a crime as long as Section 144 of CrPC is not imposed and charging individuals or groups in this regard is not easy,” said an official of the interior ministry.

Earlier such inquiry was thwarted by govt in February

To save its own skin, the inquiry letter issued by the FIA clearly states, ‘With reference to Ministry of Interior letter no.10/11/2019-FIA dated 11-03-2019 on the subject Social Media Campaign Against the Visit of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Pakistan...”.

The visit of the Saudi crown prince took place on Feb 17 and 18 and the inquiry was ordered by the FIA on March 13, two days after the agency received the directive from the interior ministry.

“A targeted social media campaign was planned/executed against the visit, during which few social media activists and groups remained particularly consistent/active till the very last day of the visit,” a letter signed by Additional Director of the FIA’s Cybercrime Wing Chaudhry Abdul Rauf said.

The letter mentioned the names of Matiullah Jan, Mur­taza Solangi, Azaz Syed, Ammar Masood, Umer Cheema and Ahmed Waqas Goraya (Netherlands) as the persons involved in criticism of the Saudi crown prince’s visit.

The letter said these “activists displayed the picture of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on their social media profile DPs which conveyed a very disrespectful message to the visiting guest”.

According to the letter, the groups involved in criticism of the crown prince’s visit are the Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen, Imamia Students Organisation (ISO), Hizbul Tahrir Pakistan and Tameer-i-Watan Party. The letter said, “These groups/party’s members were found most active on social media against Mohammad Bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan”.

The letter called on all additional directors of the cybercrime wing to submit a report on their inquiries to Deputy Director Ayaz Khan on a daily basis.

The issue came to the fore after veteran journalist Murtaza Solangi registered protest against the inquiry on his Twitter account, saying, “So the shameful government of Imran Khan has a problem with putting the picture of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi on your Twitter profile and considers it against the law?”

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2019