KARACHI: A judicial magistrate on Saturday cancelled two cases related to alleged online defamatory campaign against former army chief retired General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and others high-profile personalities and institutions over faulty investigation by the Federal Investigation Agency.

Last year, the agency had booked Mohammad Kashif Khan Durrani and Mohammad Asif Ali Qureshi, both said to be supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, over allegedly ‘violating dignity of natural person’ and ‘promoting mutiny’ by running campaigns against Gen Bajwa, PM Sharif, Interior Minister Sanaullah and other politicians and institutions on social media.

Both the suspects were accused of running a campaign against these high-profile personalities on the social media networking and video-sharing websites, including the Facebook and TikTok.

Judicial Magistrate (East) Mukesh Kumar passed this ruling on challans filed by the investigating officers of two separate cases under Section 173 of the criminal procedure code.

In the first case, IO Sub-Inspector Ameer Ali Khoso had recommended the court to initiate trial against the absconding suspect Mohammad Kashif Khan Durrani for allegedly committing offences of defamation and starting a highly obnoxious campaign intentionally and publically against senior military leadership, including the then army chief Bajwa, in order to create mutiny in the army.

He asked the court to initiate trial against the suspect for committing offences punishable under Sections 16 (tampering, etc of communication equipment), 20 (malicious code) of the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act (Peca), 2016 read with Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code, as per the evidence found from his account on the TikTok according to the FIR lodged on Sept 23, 2022.

The suspect had allegedly fled to Muscat, he added.

In the second case, IO Meer Ali recommended to the court to initiate trial against suspect Mohammad Asif Ali Qureshi for running campaign on the Facebook against premier Sharif, Interior Minister Sanaullah and other politicians, which were punishable under Sections 20 (malicious code) and 24 (legal recognition of offences committed in relation to information system) of the Peca, 2016 read with Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the PPC.

However, JM Kumar noted that after meticulously going through the material (evidence) placed before the court it appeared besides the source report and some screenshots, no corroboratory or supporting evidence whatsoever was collected by the IO to substantiate the commissioning of offences by the absconder accused.

He further noted that prima facie it was still unclear that whether the alleged Tiktok account was used by the absconder accused or not or by any other person as the Tiktok authorities had yet not given the user details to the IO, adding that no record from Tiktok was available.

He remarked that it was order of the day in the cyber village that social media accounts were created / made in the fake names and one could not say surely that the particular account pertained to an individual unless the same was confirmed through the supportive material, whereas “apparently in the facts and circumstances of this case, neither the user details nor IP addresses of Tiktok account, MAC address nor has any call data record of the alleged number been found out that may even prima facie connect the accused with commission of offences, thus to say the least prosecution has no single tangible evidence regarding the commission of offence by accused either in shape of ocular, circumstantial or / and documentary”.

In the second case, judicial magistrate Mukesh noted that the IO concluded that the suspect was involved in defamation and started a highly obnoxious campaign intentionally and publicly against political figures of current government officials in order to create rift between the government and legal institutions.

He pointed out that however “it manifestly appears from the record that no formal complaint from any current government functionary in whatsoever manner has been sent to the FIA, neither does the list of witnesses contain any name of a private person or a government official who might have allegedly been defamed, threatened or criminally intimidated”.

The magistrate noted that the crimes under Sections 16, 20 and 24 of PECA were non-cognizable in their nature, whereas cognizance under Section 505 of PPC was barred except upon a complaint in view of Section 196 (prosecution for offence against state) of the CrPC.

Therefore, he ruled that the court could take cognizance in non-cognizable offence, hence he accepted the charge sheets in both cases in “C” (cancelled) class.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2023

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