KARACHI: Kubra kept crying quietly for around half an hour as everyone in the courtroom stared at her, until the judge finally broke the silence.
“Miss what is done is done. But, if you keep silent, you will lose another battle,” he told the young complainant, encouraging her to testify against an accused who was blackmailing her on the basis of her personal videos and pictures.
“Your testimony can lead to the conviction of the accused, if you speak out,” the male judge told the visibly nervous Kubra (which is a pseudonym to keep her identity secret), who was still wiping tears rolling down her cheeks and composing herself up to speak.
Slowly, but carefully she started narrating her ordeal, as she knew she was sharing information too personal to be shared in front of people, mostly men.
She testified that she had got married to a man from Punjab, who was a personal friend of a former prime minister.
Hundreds of cases are pending in Karachi under electronic crimes law as FIA fails to complete probe
She further deposed that after sometime of their marriage her husband all of a sudden leaked her personal pictures and videos on social media when they quarrelled over a domestic dispute.
“This has ruined my life and the honour of my family,” the terrified woman said, adding that the accused was also using his social influence to silence her and her family.
“He is pressuring us to withdraw the case,” the woman told the court.
Kubra, who is yet to face tough questions of the defence counsel during her upcoming cross-examination, further said that she had hesitantly filed a case with the Federal Investigation Agency under relevant sections of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, but the investigators had failed to complete the investigation after passage of months.
Kubra isn’t alone. There are dozens of other women, many of them unmarried girls, who have lodged around 1,200 complaints with the FIA’s Cyber Crime Reporting Centre (CCRC) during this year in Karachi alone.
The cases are pending disposal because of the failure of the FIA’s investigating officers in filing investigation reports with the relevant courts, under Section 173 of the criminal procedure code.
Judicial sources told Dawn that during hearing of a case it had emerged that around 1,200 complaints were lodged by the public with the FIA’s CCRC in Karachi.
“The investigating officers have failed to complete those inquiries/investigations despite the lapse of months,” the sources said.
Judicial Magistrate (South) Mukesh Kumar Talreja recently taking serious exception to the attitude on the part of the FIA’s investigators, had issued a show-cause notice to the additional director of the CCRC asking him to furnish a written explanation as to why he might not be proceeded against for failing to ensure submission of the investigation reports by the IOs.
Most victims are women
The sources explained that most of the cases had been lodged by citizens, mostly the women, under Sections 13, 14, 16 and 26 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.
“These sections relate to the usage of electronic devices for the commissioning of the offence, unauthorised use of (a person’s) identity information, tampering with the communication equipment used in an offence and other offences and pornography, which are punishable under the provisions of the PECA, 2016,” the sources explained.
“In most of the cases the accused persons befriend young women and when they reject their marriage proposals or refuse to fulfil their immoral demands, the men obtain their personal pictures and videos for blackmailing,” the lawyers and judicial staffers told Dawn.
“This is not just the case with unmarried women alone. In some cases couples are also involved.
“In most of the cases female complainants complained that their friends, fiancés or even husbands, over some quarrel or under one pretext or the other or to take revenge, published their personal photos and videos on the social media by creating fake IDs on social media networking sites, such as Facebook, etc.”
The digital rights campaigners have expressed their grave concern over the manner in which the FIA is dealing with the cases of delicate nature.
Speaking to Dawn, senior lawyers expressed their concerns about the delays in the process of investigation or inquiries arguing that such cases finally end up in benefitting the suspects.
“Most of the witnesses, including the victims, become unable to recall the actual facts at the time of recording their testimonies,” they argued.
They added: “The stage of recording testimonies of the victims and the eyewitnesses is equally important as the circumstantial or material evidence.”
Digital rights campaigners’ concern
Digital rights campaigner Nighat Dad was not surprised given that around 1,200 online harassment-related cases were pending just in one city: Karachi.
She told Dawn the situation of cases or inquiries in such cases pilling up were same in other cities of the country as well.
“The problem is that there is no proper legal procedure defined since the PECA, 2016 is a new law,” she said, adding that the procedures of inquiries or investigation in such cases and then legal trials had to be clearly defined.
As a result, Ms Dad said it had been observed that either lodging the complaints with the FIA took one or two years and then the legal trials also took two to three years to complete.
“This is an injustice with a victim/survivor, who finally got enough courage to speak out and report the incident,” she said, adding that because of lengthy investigation and judicial trial procedures it had been noted that many victims or survivors simply give up the battle.
“And they better ask for Muk Muka (compromise),” She lamented.
On the other hand, the delays in trials are also tantamount to infringing basic rights of the suspects, if they are booked in false cases. “Those who have not committed the offence, but have been behind the bars for long time, they are also not getting justice like the survivors.”
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2021