ISLAMABAD: An additional district and sessions judge of Islamabad on Mon­day directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to proceed against US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie for allegedly defaming former prime minister of Pakistan and slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

Judge Mohammad Jaha­ngir Awan had reserved the decision on the petition filed by Islamabad president of the Pakistan Peoples Party Raja Shakeel Abbasi seeking registration of a criminal case against Ms Ritchie.

The judge in his order obs­erved: “There is no den­ial from proposed accused [Ritchie] that she created this tweet on social media. Hence, a crime has been committed falling under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act [PECA] 2016 and FIA is competent to investigate the matter in accordance with the law. Under the circumstances, the application is hereby accepted and FIA is directed to proceed in accordance with law, conduct an inquiry and if there is sufficient material, register an FIR.”

Following the court decision, Ms Ritchie held her lawyer Nasir Azim Khan responsible for such an ‘adverse’ order as she tweeted: “I just came to know @NasirKhaannn misrepresented me in court. I NEVER said my tweets were fake. We were supposed to file 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.”

The petitioner earlier informed the court that Ms Ritchie had “passed extre­mely derogatory remarks” against Ms Bhutto, but the FIA did not entertain his application for registration of an FIR against the American blogger.

The Pakistan Telecommu­nication Authority (PTA) took the stance before Judge Awan that it lacked jurisdiction to proceed against an individual over an alleged controversial tweet.

The PTA, however, suggested the court that in case there was any criminality related to Ms Cynthia’s official social media accounts then there is a cybercrime wing of the FIA to handle this. The PTA claimed that they had initiated actions against controversial websites.

The FIA had requested the court to dismiss Abbasi’s application, explaining that he had no locus standi [right of audience] to become complainant in the mater for invoking the provisions of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act [Peca] 2016 since only the aggrieved person or their guardian could lodge the complaint.

The court, however, was of the opinion that “in the present case the person against whom allegations were made on social media was not only dead since long but also she was a leader of millions and ex-PM of Pakistan, thus anyone from her followers can be treated as aggrieved person. The present petitioner is the district president of the political party headed by late Ms Benazir Bhutto, ex-Prime Minister, so, he is also an aggrieved person as per definitions of PECA.”

PPP’s Islamabad president Advocate Raja Shakeel Abbasi had filed the petition under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code, seeking registration of an FIR against Ms Ritchie on defamation charges.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2020

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