Govt to withdraw FIA’s social media amendment if it restricts freedom of expression: Sanaullah

Published November 2, 2022
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in Islamabad on Wednesday. — Capital TV screengrab
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in Islamabad on Wednesday. — Capital TV screengrab

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday said that the government would not pass the recent amendment in the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Act — which empowers the watchdog to act against those spreading rumours against state institutions on social media — if it negatively impacted the freedom of expression.

Last week, cabinet members approved a summary on circulation from the Ministry of Interior about amendments in the schedule of the FIA Act, 1974, including an amendment empowering it with Section 505 (statement conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

An official of the FIA had, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that previously the agency would have needed the cabinet’s approval to take action against perpetrators.

But with the inclusion of this section, the watchdog would now be able to take action without further delay. “Similarly other wings of FIA, including the counterterrorism wing, would also be able to take action against any such material which falls under their ambit, including registering a case,” he added.

Addressing the development in a media talk outside the Parliament today, Sanaullah said that the government would consult journalists and other stakeholders on the bill and withdraw it if it restricted the freedom of expression.

However, he added that there were some things on social media that needed to be controlled and the personal lives of people were being negatively affected.

The interior minister also stressed that if the bill was against the freedom of expression then “we won’t pass it and won’t be with it.”

He said the government would introduce the bill in the parliament and try to achieve consensus but if the journalist community said it infringed their rights then it would not be passed.

Sanaullah said people’s private lives were being affected due to social media which was a “serious matter”.

He added that the government was looking into an amendment that could solve this issue without harming the freedom of expression and called on journalists and the media community to provide guidance.

It is worth noting that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in April struck down an ordinance, promulgated by the PTI government, making amendments to the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had issued a four-page order explaining how Section 20 of the law, which criminalises defamation, flew in the face of freedom of expression, a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

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