LAHORE: An officer of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cybercrime wing, who registered an FIR against singer Meesha Shafi and eight others for their alleged involvement in a smear campaign against singer-actor Ali Zafar was suspended from the service on Thursday.

“Service of Muhammad Asif Iqbal, assistant director/senior investigator (BPS-17) cybercrime reporting centre Lahore is hereby placed under suspension with immediate effect till further orders,” says an order issued by FIA Director (cybercrime wing) Amir Farooqi.

Neither a show-cause notice was issued to Mr Iqbal, nor any reason given for his suspension, an official source told Dawn.

“Mr Iqbal has been suspended on the basis of a tweet he made to explain Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Media Crimes Act 2016, related to the case against Ms Shafi and others,” the source said.

He said the officer in question neither commented, nor gave his opinion, but just tweeted the law and the punishments it carried.

Was accused of supporting Ali Zafar’s suit against Meesha

On Monday last, Ms Shafi, actor-host Iffat Omar, Leena Ghani, Fariha Ayub, Maham Javaid, Ali Gul, Haseemuz Zaman Khan, Humna Raza and Syed Faizan Raza were booked under section 20 (1) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and R/W 109-PPC.

Mr Iqbal’s tweet reads, “Whoever publicly exhibits false information that harms the reputation of a person, is [committing] a crime U/S 20 of Cybercrime Act.”

It further states in Urdu language that the law prescribes three years imprisonment or one million fine, or both, for a person involved in propagation of fake news through social media that harms the reputation of another person.

The source said that a minister’s daughter accused Mr Iqbal of being a spokesperson for Ali Zafar on social media and spearheaded a campaign against the officer. She tweeted: “Women, listen to what the State is telling us: we hear you but we really don’t care. As if the FIRs aren’t bad enough, the Assistant Director, FIA cybercrime Lahore is basically Ali Zafar’s personal spokesperson.”

The source said that “some influential persons” in Islamabad played a role in getting the FIA officer suspended.

“The investigator had also faced pressure to file a counter FIR against Ali Zafar on similar grounds (running a smear campaign against Ms Shafi),” he said.

Asif Iqbal has been very active on social media as he used to create awareness regarding cybercrime offences and laws.

A senior FIA official in Islamabad told Dawn that getting active on social media was a reason behind the officer’s suspension.

“The FIA officials, like other government employees, have been directed not to give their opinion on social media,” he said.

In November 2018, Ali Zafar had filed a complaint with the FIA cybercrime wing, alleging that many social media accounts were posting “threats and defamatory material” against him. He provided details of some Twitter and Facebook accounts to support his claim.

‘Teefa in Trouble’ actor had alleged that many fake accounts had been created to launch a smear campaign against him weeks before Ms Shafi leveled allegation of sexual harassment against him in April, 2018. He stated that most of these fake accounts were allegedly linked to Ms Shafi and her lawyer.

Ms Shafi had appeared before the FIA with her team of lawyers in December 2019, but failed to produce any witness to back her allegation (of sexual harassment) against Ali Zafar, the FIR says.

A defamation suit filed by Mr Zafar against Ms Shafi has also been pending with a sessions court.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2020

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