Below is a record of petitions filed against the Federation of Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and the Federal Investigation Agency for exercise of power, abuse of authority, violation of fundamental rights – espeically freedom of expression – and due process of law, in connection with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. PDF here.
|1||23 May 2017||
Journalist Taha Siddiqui filed W.P. No. 1956/2017 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against intimidation and harassment by the FIA. As stated in the petition, on 18.05.2017 Siddiqui received a phone call from an officer of the FIA’s counterterrorism wing, instructing him to appear before them for interrogation regarding his “opinion on certain issues” and “journalistic pieces” by him. According to the petition, the officer acted without lawful authority. The IHC issued notices to the FIA to appear before the court on 29.05.2017 and restrained them from harassing the petitioner, instructing them to proceed in accordance with the law. Despite court orders, the FIA issued a summon directing Siddiqui to appear before them for questioning, failure to do which would carry legal consequences.
|2||07 June 2017||C.P. 3927/2017 filed by nine citizens before the Sindh High Court (SHC) against the Ministry of Interior and FIA challenging the detentions and arrests of activists and journalists under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. The petitioners viewed FIA action as a violation of due process of law and fundamental rights. The petition argued that criticism of the armed forces did not constitute a criminal offence, nor did it fall within the exceptions to Article 19. The petitioners contended the “government and the FIA, through both their statements and their actions, have created a chilling effect on freedom of speech and deliberately hindered the public exercise of the rights guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution by obstructing the right of citizens to even engage in constructive criticism.”
Notices were issued to the FIA and they were directed to submit a response. On 06.07.2019, the FIA submitted a response to court.
|3||06 July 2017||Pakistan Press Foundation moved the Islamabad High Court (IHC) through W.P. 2529/2017 to declare “Sections 9, 10, 11, 20, 25, 26 and 37 of the PECA to be ultra vires of the Fundamental Rights Chapter and in particular Article 19 of the Constitution.” The petition argued these provisions violated the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution as well as Pakistan’s international commitments “as a State Party to the ICCPR” and were therefore “illegal and unconstitutional.”
Notices were issued to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom and the Ministry of Law and Justice through the deputy attorney general on 10.12.2018. The case is fixed for reply by the Federation of Pakistan.
|4||20 November 2017||
Upon the directions of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Bolo Bhi submitted a response to court in W.P. No. 4994/2014 Bolo Bhi etc versus Federation of Pakistan, etc. The petition, filed in 2014, challenged the Federation of Pakistan and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) powers to issue directions and block content on the Internet.
In August 2016, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) came into effect with content management powers given to the PTA under Section 37. During this time, the Ministry of Interior instructed the FIA to monitor and act against content on social media. In its written submission, Bolo Bhi contended the Federation of Pakistan had no legal authority to regulate internet content under the Telecom Act and/or PECA and that a transitory and unregulated power granted to PTA via Section 37 of PECA could not be abused to regulate content on the internet for an indefinite period.
In order dated 25.05.2018, the IHC held that while the PTA was exclusively vested with the powers and jurisdiction to decide matters described under Section 37 (1) of PECA 2016, this was to be done independently and uninfluenced by any direction issued/information placed before it by the Federal Government. It held that while exercising such power and discretion, the Authority must not act “arbitrarily and capriciously.”
|5||13 March 2018||Media Matters for Democracy filed W.P. 951/2018 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), challenging the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s move to shut down Twitter, Facebook for 30 hours on 25 November 2017, after violent protests broke out at Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad. On 13.03.2018, the court ordered comments to be filed.
Prior to filing the petition, on 4 December 2017, MMFD had filed a Right to Information request, asking for the “notification letter received by the PTA from the government for the suspension of social media including Facebook and Twitter on 25 November 2017 in the midst of recent Faizabad Dharna.” No response was received from PTA. Following this, MMFD sent PTA a notice saying the suspension of the platforms was “unnecessary and unproportionate, and ultra vires the mandate of Section 37.” The notice called upon PTA “to tender a public apology for violating fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan within 7 days, the failure of which will compel a lawsuit against the Authority.”
|6||18 February 2019||
Awami Workers Party (AWP) filed W.P. No. 634/2019 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority for blocking AWP’s website. In addition to asking the court to unblock its website, the “AWP urged the court to guard the fundamental rights of citizens in online spaces and to compel PTA to exercise its powers of blocking online content strictly in accordance with the law.”
AWP’s website was blocked on 3 July 2018. Prior to filing the writ petition, AWP had approached the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on 06 June 2018, asking the ECP to issue directions to the PTA to unblock its website.
On 18.02.2019, the IHC admitted the petition and issued directions to the PTA to file comments within a fortnight. No comments were filed by the PTA when the case came up for hearing on 20.03.19. The IHC said it would hold PTA Chairman in contempt if a response was not submitted within a fortnight. The Petition was disposed off on 12.09.2019 in favour of Awami Workers Party. The website has been restored.
|7||23 April 2019||C.P. 2332/2019 was filed before the Sindh High Court against the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for negligence which led to the loss of the evidence file in case 947/2017 pending before a Sessions Court in Karachi. The petition states that “despite repeated requests by the petitioner, the FIA has failed to recover the lost police file, refused to provide any explanation for the loss of evidence, or disclose if they have in their possession any alternative or substitute to the original evidentiary record.” The petition requests the SHC to direct the FIA to produce the evidence in the lost evidence file including the seizure memo immediately or provide alternative best evidence for the trial to commence in a fair manner, and direct the FIA to conduct a thorough inquiry into the lost evidence file. Notices were issued on 23.04.2019 to the FIA to submit a response by 21.05.2019.
On 18.09.2019, the FIA informed the Court that the entire police file had been recovered and FIA was ready to proceed with the trial. The matter was disposed off on 30.09.2019 whereby the Court ordered the trial court to conclude the trial within two months.
The Sindh High Court called for a compliance report of order dated 30.09.2019 from the Sessions Court vide letter dated 02.12.2019. In response to that report the Sessions Judge wrote that the matter is adjourned without progress on every date due to non-production of prosecution witnesses and police file by the prosecution; that the delay is on the part of the prosecution and not the Court.
W.P No. 51301/2019 was filed before the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) by Leena Ghani requesting the LHC to direct the Duty Officer to restrain from harassing the Petitioner. The Petitioner had received summonses from FIA ordering her attendance to join an enquiry initiated on the complaint of Ali Zafar accusing Leena Ghani of committing defamation through her tweets. The petition asked the court to direct the FIA to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the Duty Officer, declare the process initiated against the petitioner unlawful, and direct FIA to initiate departmental enquiry against the Duty Officer.
On 16.09.2019, the case was adjourned to 26.09.2019 with direction to the Respondents to submit comments and the Duty Officer was directed to not harass the Petitioner till then.
Criminal Appeal 522 of 2019 filed before the Sindh High Court (SHC) requested the Court to set aside orders of the 1st Magistrate Court, South Karachi, granting permission for investigation and search and seizure. The Court disposed of the appeal on 03.12.2019 and held that the investigation may continue but strictly in accordance with the law whereas in the event the IO deems necessary a warrant for search and seizure under Section 33 PECA he may move a fresh application for the same. The Court also observed that a warrant for search and seizure was not obtained suggesting that a warrant is a requirement under Section 33 PECA for search and seizure.
Lahore Sessions Court issued notice to cyber crime wing of FIA on a petition filed by TikTok star Sandal Khattak against summons issued to her. Khattak pleaded that the FIA initiated enquiries against her and issued her summonses without informing her of the allegations against her. "The FIA has been harassing me. I was summoned for an inquiry on October 28 and November 5, without any knowledge of what the investigation is about," Khattak said in her petition. Khattak asked the court to restrain the FIA from harassing her and set aside the summons. She further sought that all documents pertaining to the investigation be brought before the court.
Additional District & Sessions Judge Misbah Khan sought a reply from FIA by 04.02.2020.
FIA denying allegations of harassment disclosed that it was conducting an inquiry against Sandal Khattak on a complaint registered by anchorperson Mubashir Luqman.
|11||17 February 2020||The Lahore High Court sought a report from the federal government on newly formulated regulations, the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020, to control social media companies/platforms under Pakistan Telecommunication Reorganization Act 1996 and Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016. Advocate Azhar Siddique, representing a petitioner, contended that the regulations needed to be implemented in letter and spirit. Therefore, he asked the court to order the PTA and the federal government to place on record the regulations and a mechanism for implementing them more effectively.
Digital rights activist Ms Jannat Ali filed an intervener application in the Petition arguing, “the regulations prima facie appear to be illegal and ultra vires for contravening and exceeding the scope of Pakistan Telecommunication Reorganization Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016 (Peca) and [in] violation of fundamental constitutional rights”. Through her counsel Usama Khawar Ghumman, the applicant pleaded that the PECA, the parent law, conferred limited powers to “remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to information through any information system.She said the parent law did not give the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) the power to sub-delegate any of its powers, including the delegation of rules to National Coordinator – a person appointed by the federal government. The applicant further contended that the federal government had very limited rule-making powers under the sections of the PECA and the PTA Act.
Through the application, the activist also sought the court’s permission to become a party to a pending petition in favour of the impugned regulations and urged the court to dismiss the same.
|12||21 February 2020||Petition filed in the Islamabad High Court against the government’s proposed the Citizen Protection (Against Online harm) Rules, 2020 to regulate social media. The cabinet secretary, law and justice secretary, information secretary and PTA chairperson have been named in the case, which has been filed by Jehangir Khan Jadoon, a member of the Supreme Court Bar Association on behalf of a citizen named Raja Ahsan Masood.
The petition said that “to control the flow of information in any form, whether it is social media, print media or electronic media is a favourite tool of dictatorships and the essence of tyranny”. It said the government “secretly” presented before the cabinet a special agenda item and approved the Citizen Protection (Against Online harm) Rules, 2020.
“The petitioner maintained that the rules were in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. He also argued that they violated Article 4 of the Constitution that ensured a person’s protection under law and also Article 19A under which citizens had the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance.”
The petitioner wants the court to declare the law in its present form illegal and restrain the respondents from implementing it.