Islamabad court orders FIA to initiate probe against Cynthia Ritchie for tweets on Benazir

Updated 15 Jun 2020

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Court says US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie's remarks about slain former premier seem to be based on "mala-fide". — FB screengrab/File
Court says US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie's remarks about slain former premier seem to be based on "mala-fide". — FB screengrab/File

An Islamabad additional district and sessions judge on Monday directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to conduct an inquiry against US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie for allegedly defaming former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on social media.

The court was hearing a petition filed by PPP leader Advocate Raja Shakeel Abbasi, who sought registration of a criminal case against Ritchie. Abbasi had filed the petition under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code, under which a judge may direct the investigation agency to register a first information report.

The ruling, issued by additional sessions judge Jehangir Awan today, noted that Ritchie had not denied that she had posted the tweet and "hence, a crime has been committed falling under Peca Act 2016". The FIA is, therefore, "competent" to probe the matter further in accordance with the law.

"FIA is directed to proceed in accordance with the law, conduct an inquiry and if there is sufficient material, register an FIR," the verdict read.

The court also observed that the allegations against Benazir were made 12 years after the PPP leader's assassination and that the US blogger "never agitated this fact before any competent authority and even not disclosed on the media".

"So, at this stage after lapse of 12 years, her [Ritchie's] disclosure to malign the character of deceased leader is apparently based on mala fide."

Addressing an argument raised by the FIA earlier that under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, only "aggrieved" persons were qualified to file such a petition, the ruling said that "in the present scenario [...] word 'aggrieved' is used instead of 'legal heirs'". The court said that Benazir was "leader of millions and ex-prime minister of Pakistan, thus anyone from her followers can be treated as aggrieved person".

Soon after the court issued its verdict, Ritchie said her lawyer Nasir Khan had "misrepresented" her by telling the court that the tweet was fake.

"I NEVER said my tweets were fake," she tweeted and added that Khan was "suddenly" demanding Rs2 million from her.

"We were supposed to file a criminal report today against Rehman Malik. Now, suddenly Mr Khan is demanding 20 lakh rupees from me — even though this matter was managed by a 3rd party."

PPP's Abbasi had approached the court after the FIA's cybercrime wing did not file an FIR on his application against Ritchie for "hateful comments and slander" against Benazir Bhutto.

In his application against the blogger, Abbasi said she had posted on Twitter "very derogatory and slanderous remarks" about Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari's marital life.

Ritchie made the comment on a tweet discussing the recent violent confrontation between model Uzma Khan and a woman named Amna Usman, who accused the model of having a relationship with her husband of 13 years and used this allegation to justify her violent treatment of the model.

Ritchie's tweet had garnered a strong reaction from PPP leaders and supporters, with Senator Sherry Rehman saying: "Attributing such filth to a champion for women’s rights, a martyred prime minister degrades the writer of this bot-handle more than anything else."

While the PPP and Ritchie have been at loggerheads on Twitter and Facebook for sometime, the latter accused former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik of raping her back in 2011. She also accused former prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani and Makhdoom Shahab, a former health minister who is currently being tried in an ephedrine case, of physically manhandling her.

Both Gillani and Malik have served her with defamation notices.