LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime wing on Friday issued a statement saying it had suspended an official for acting as its ‘unofficial’ spokesperson.

“Assistant Director Asif Iqbal was suspended and issued an explanation for maintaining a private Twitter account bearing cybercrime wing Lahore. He was acting as a spokesman for the cybercrime wing on his own accord without permission which is against disciplinary rules,” a statement posted by the wing’s spokesman said on Facebook on Friday.

This provided yet another little twist to a rare case where the agency had sought to discipline one of its own staffers, the FIA action inevitably linked to cases Mr Iqbal had been involved professionally in recent days.

Only a few days ago, Mr Iqbal had registered a cybercrime case against Ms Meesha Shafi and a group of eight others for allegedly running a smear campaign against Mr Ali Zafar on social media on behalf or Ms Meesha Shafi. The booking had led to protests in which the FIA official was accused of promoting circumstances that could go against Ms Shafi at a crucial time.

Dawn had quoted an official source as saying that Mr Iqbal was suspended on the basis of a tweet, in which he had shed light on a section of the cybercrime law. The tweet came days after the FIR was registered by FIA’s cybercrime wing against the group of nine.

The tweet in question said: “Whoever publicly exhibits false information that harms the reputation of a person, is [committing] a crime U/S 20 of Cybercrime Act. And 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 appearance of the news story about Mr Iqbal’s suspension, a unique instance in the history of FIA where the watchdog itself claimed to have been allegedly hoodwinked, was also construed by some groups as part of some kind of an anti Meesha Shafi drive. Further details in the case in the coming days specific to Mr Iqbal’s conduct were likely to dispel the impression, a reading of the messages from various sources indicated.

An official told Dawn that Mr Iqbal had previously been issued two notices by the department asking him to refrain from using media in an official capacity. He did tweet about the same (smear campaign) case which he had registered under his name thus becoming a party to the affair, the official said and added no other inquiry against Mr Iqbal was currently under way.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2020

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