KARACHI: Hundreds of victims of cybercrimes, including identity theft, image-based sexual abuse and pornography, await justice as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has failed to file charge sheets against the suspects nominated in around 1,500 cases pending trials for months in the courts of Karachi, Dawn has learnt.
Judicial and prosecution sources revealed that as many as 1,500 complaints/ inquiries/ investigations were lodged by the public with the Cyber Crime Reporting Cell (CCRC) of the FIA in Karachi during the year 2021.
They believed that a majority of the complaints had been lodged by women and girls against their former boyfriends, fiancés or even husbands, who had been using their (women’s) personal pictures and videos in order to blackmail them either for monetary benefits or to coerce them into developing illicit relationships.
30 FIRs in three months
However, CCRC additional director Imran Riaz of FIA said that the number of the complaints/ inquiries/ investigations pending investigation due to non-submission of investigation reports was 1,500 in Karachi alone.
“There is a difference between an inquiry and an FIR,” he said, adding that most of the inquiries would end up before they were converted into investigations because an FIR was registered when sufficient (forensic and other) evidence was successfully retrieved.
FIA fails to file charge sheets in around 1,500 cases before Karachi courts
He claimed that a total of 90 FIRs were registered across Sindh in 2021, adding that a total of 30 FIRs were registered across Sindh in 2022 so far.
However, the statistics compiled by a non-profit organisation, Digital Rights Foundation, suggested that its helpline had received around 1,500 public complaints from all over the country pertaining to misuse of the complainants’ personal data (including pictures or videos, etc) during the year 2021.
The group analysed that some 70 per cent of the complaints were lodged by female victims, while remaining 30pc were registered by male victims.
Mr Riaz of the FIA had recently disclosed before a court that around 1,500 complaints/ inquiries/ investigations were lodged across the metropolis.
The official had also conceded that these complaints / inquiries / investigations were pending because the investigation reports had not been submitted by investigating officers to the relevant courts.
“Initially, the CCRC additional director had admitted that the investigating officers had not filed reports in courts regarding investigation into around 1,200 complaints/ enquiries/ investigations lodged in Karachi’s East-district alone,” a judicial source told Dawn.
“Later, the senior officer modified his statement saying that 1,200 cases were related to districts Korangi and East of Karachi. However, during subsequent hearings the officer again changed his statement saying that the total number of pending complaints/ enquiries/ investigation lodged across Karachi was estimated at around 1,500,” added the source.
They said that the trial in these complaints or enquires — which mostly related to cyberstalking, identity theft, pornography and online harassment — had been stalled, as the IO had not filed charge sheets with the courts against the nominated suspects, as required under Section 173 of the criminal procedure code.
“Majority of the complaints have been lodged by female victims, while others involve males, who approach the FIA and then court to seek justice in such cases of delicate nature,” another judicial source commented.
The source explained that the victims had lodged their complaints under Sections 13, 14, 16, 20, 21 and 26 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016 which deal with the ‘usage of electronic devices for the commission of an offence, unauthorised use of (a person’s) identity information, tampering with the communication equipment used in the offence and other offences, which are punishable under provisions of the PECA, 2016.
Delay irks magistrate
Since October 2021, Judicial Magistrate (East) Mukesh Kumar Talreja had been issuing show-cause notices to the CCRC additional director to explain as to why charge sheets were not being submitted by the IO to the courts, where these cases were pending trial for months.
In his Feb 26 order, the magistrate noted that the record showed that no report was being submitted in routine before incumbent court regarding the progress of complaints/enquiries/investigations registered under the Cyber Crime Complain Registration at the CCRC, Karachi.
“According to Rule 7 (3) of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Investigation Rules, 2018 an IO must submit an investigation report within 60 days of registration of a case, whereas per se sub-rules 4 and 5, the case is to be registered, if a cognizable offence is made out, while in case of non-cognizable offence, the matter is to be reported to the concerned court for seeking permission for investigation in terms of Section 155 of the CrPC,” the judge had noted.
The judge remarked that it had regularly been observed that no report in respect of sub-rule 4 or 5 of Rule 7 was being forwarded to this court and it had come to the knowledge of the undersigned that there were almost 1,500 enquiries pending for the investigation reports.
He recalled that additional director was directed to submit report in terms of Section 4(12) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Rules, 2018 and thereafter on his reply a detailed order was passed “rejecting his contention that the agency is not required to submit such report and subsequently were further strictly directed to submit that report within given time”.
The magistrate wrote that on the last date the additional director had personally appeared in court and submitted a reply to the show-cause notice coupled with a written request to grant him further time for submission of the report, “whereupon one month time was granted, however, to my utter surprise, you have again miserably failed to submit such requisite report”.
Coming down heavily on the additional director, the magistrate ordered him to personally appear before the court along with required report and show-cause in writing as to why action should not be taken against him for flouting the mandatory law.
In compliance with the court directive, Mr Riaz recently appeared in court and submitted that the data of the pending complaints, enquiries and investigations was being compiled and a comprehensive report would be submitted to the court.
However, he complained about shortage of staff and submitted that currently there were only 12 investigating officer working.
He requested the judge to vacate the show-cause notice issued to him and grant one-month time to enable him to submit a comprehensive report in this regard.
While vacating the show-cause notice on the officer’s request, the judge granted him one-month time to submit the report.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2022