The federal cabinet on Wednesday approved an amendment allowing the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take action against any individual who spreads “false information against state institutions” on social media, with offenders facing imprisonment of up to 7 years.
Reportedly, the cabinet approved the amendments to the FIA Act, 1974 through a summary moved by the Interior Ministry via circulation. However, the new law would not come into effect until it has been approved by Parliament.
According to the summary, Section 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which empowers police to detain anyone issuing statements encouraging “public mischief” and seek imprisonment of up to seven years, as well as a fine, is not included in the schedule of the FIA Act. It has urged the government to include it in the FIA Act, thereby granting it the authority to take action against any “fake news” or “rumors” about state institutions being circulated on social media without evidence.
In the summary, the FIA maintained that the content being circulated on social media risked inciting the public, and could trigger public unrest by encouraging people to target individuals associated with the named organizations.
The legislation has evoked the amendments that President Arif Alvi had approved to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, (PECA) 2016 via ordinance. Under the ordinance, anyone found criticizing state institutions, including the Pakistan Army, judiciary and others, risked a five-year imprisonment, with no chance for bail after arrest. However, that ordinance was declared “unconstitutional” by the Islamabad High Court on a petition filed by various journalist bodies, who had contented it hampered the public’s right to free speech.
The parties comprising the incumbent government, at the time in opposition, had protested against the legislation, adding that once they came to power, they would seek to reverse it.