Silencing dissent under the garb of national security


Will the government ever learn from its mistakes?



“You can only summon an individual through a legal notice. FIA’s act of calling Taha Siddiqui via phone and telling him to appear before the agency is both irresponsible and illegal”, he told DNA


The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has detained and interrogated dozens of social media users for posting ‘anti-army’ content. The FIA released a list of 35 social media activists who use social media platforms to ‘carry out a propaganda campaign against the armed forces’.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar defended the crackdown and said anything that disrespects or devalues the armed forces of the country will not be tolerated and added that the country’s laws are under attack from a section of social media. The interior minister further said that the social media users involved in posting ‘anti-army’ content are being interrogated and there is no harassment, but a number of activists and journalists have complained of harassment by the FIA.

Journalist Taha Siddiqui, who was summoned by the FIA for his ‘anti-army’ posts on social media, says he is being targeted because he never practiced self-censorship.

“FIA served me an undated notice on Thursday, asking me to appear before the counter-terror wing of the agency, but the notice didn’t say anything about charges under which they are summoning me”, he told DNA.

A few days prior to being served the notice, Taha had received a call from the FIA counter-terror wing’s deputy director, who asked him to appear before the investigation wing for interrogation. “The FIA official’s tone was threatening and he talked to me as if I was his subordinate. He did not even tell which post or article they think is objectionable”, Taha said, while speaking to DNA.

The journalist moved the Islamabad High Court against what he described as harassment, and the court ordered the FIA not to harass journalists. The case is still being heard by the IHC and the FIA has been asked to submit its response by Monday.

Legal analyst Asad Jamal says no institution can issue a summon over the phone. “You can only summon an individual through a legal notice. FIA’s act of calling Taha Siddiqui via phone and telling him to appear before the agency is both irresponsible and illegal”, he told DNA. He further said when the state points out an individual and summons them like this, they become vulnerable and their life comes under danger.

“If something happens to Taha Siddiqi, the state will be held responsible because they presented him as someone who stands against state institutions”, he said.

Jamal regretted that the leading investigation institution of the country was being used by the government to silence criticism and dissent under the garb of national security.

“The state is using treason, blasphemy and anti-terror laws to crackdown on social media, and this is a dangerous approach, he said.

Those arrested or interrogated under the recent FIA campaign include activists affiliated with political parties including the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN-N). Opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has condemned the recent crackdown and interrogations, terming the campaign as an attempt to muzzle criticism of the government. PTI Chairman Imran Khan issued a statement saying the party will take to the streets if its ‘social media activists are arrested under the garb of national security’. The PML-N leadership, on the other hand, has chosen to distance itself from its party activists who have been arrested or questioned by the FIA.

“The PML-N government is using state institutions to carry out political victimisation. We won’t stay silent if they target our social media activists”, PTI central leader Andleeb Abbas told DNA.

Andleeb said the FIA turns a blind eye to cases of currency smuggling and presence of heroin on PIA flights, but victimises people who use the medium of social media to express themselves. “We are in touch with our activists who were arrested or interrogated by the FIA and we will continue to defend the public’s right to free speech”, she said.

Despite repeated attempts to reach him, interior ministry spokesman was unavailable for comment.

The government appears to be building a narrative that social media is evil and needs to be banned. This started back in January when five social media activists were abducted from various parts of the country. The FIA had told people to report blasphemous content online and the consequence of that was a university student’s lynching by a mob comprising fellow students for alleged blasphemy on social media. Instead of building a narrative against the practice of taking the law into one’s own hands, the government is repeating what led to the Mardan lynching incident by declaring social media users as traitors and anti-state elements.