The interim government on Tuesday constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe a “malicious” social media campaign targeting judges of the Supreme Court under Section 30 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.
According to a notification, the six-member inter-institution JIT would be led by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s additional director general (Cyber Crime Wing). It said it would include representatives of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), DIG Islamabad Capital Territory Police, and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). A co-opted official would also serve as a member.
Under the terms of reference, the team must ascertain facts behind social media campaigns attempting to “malign the image of honorable judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” identify and prosecute culprits in accordance with relevant laws and ensure submission of challans in courts.
The JIT’s tasks also include recommending measures to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in future and the submission of a preliminary report to the Interior Ministry within two weeks.
The constitution of the JIT follows the severe criticism levelled at the apex court and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa after a three-member bench led by him upheld an Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) order withdrawing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s electoral symbol. The intensity of the backlash had prompted the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Supreme Court Bar Council (SCBA) to demand action against those responsible for running campaigns targeting the CJP.
Addressing a press conference, office-bearers of both bodies demanded the PTA and FIA take “strict action,” with SCBA President Shahzad Shaukat stressing the organization stood with the apex court’s judges. Noting that court rulings could be criticized, he said this did not entail personal maligning of judges. “Lawyers will not tolerate criticism of judges. When the order mentions that it [PTI] did not hold elections, then [why the undue criticism],” he said.
PBC Vice President Haroonur Rasheed similarly said there were legal avenues to challenge flaws in any court ruling. “The PTI barred its own members from participating in intra-party elections; I plead with lawyers and the nation to criticize the verdict but not to ridicule judges,” he said. PBC Executive Committee Chairman Hasan Raza Pasha said the ruling was a result of the poor preparation of the PTI’s lawyers. “One side of this decision is moral and the other legal: morally, the PTI should have been given the bat symbol; however, legally it was not possible to get relief without holding intra-party elections,” he added.