Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has warned of nationwide anti-government protests after over 20 party activists were arrested for social media posts allegedly targeting the armed forces. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) over the weekend arrested several people after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar last week said that anti-army activities on the internet would not be allowed. The Express Tribune, citing sources, reported that the arrests were made from several parts of the country and more arrests were likely to take place in the coming days.
The sources said around 22 people, mostly from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the PML-N, were taken into custody by the FIA for interrogation regarding their posts on social media.Yesterday, the party had claimed that Owais Khan, a member of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s social media team, was taken into custody by the FIA over alleged violations of Pakistan’s cybercrime laws.
While announcing the protest in Islamabad, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary said, “They (the government) are trying to silence us.” “What Chaudhary Nisar is doing will hurt this country,” he said, referring to the interior minister’s orders to the FIA to identify suspects involved in what the ministry calls an “organised” campaign against the country’s armed forces on social media. “Our social media head’s office was raided and he believes that the people who did it belonged to the FIA,” Chaudhary alleged.
Announcing a protest here today, Chaudhary said, “We are protesting in Islamabad today, but if this harassment continues we will take this to the rest of the country.” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf vice-president Shah Mahmood Qureshi yesterday visited the FIA headquarters in Islamabad and met the arrested party activists. “We stand by our (detained) activists and their families. They have not been nominated in any FIR specifically,” he said. Criticising the arrests, he said it was against the spirit of the democracy.
Pakistan’s rights activists also expressed serious concern over the crackdown against groups and individuals for posts allegedly targeting the armed forces on social media. Eminent lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jehangir slammed the government for the arrests which she said was against the law of the country. She said people appreciated the professional role of the army but if it indulged in politics and commercial activities, then people would question it.
“The government has no right to snatch the basic rights of the people,” she said.
Jehangir said if the government wants to make army happy, then it should adopt other ways than depriving people of their rights. Opposition political parties also expressed concern at the arrest of social media activists and political workers.Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that the government was misusing cybercrime laws to intimidate and harass the social media activists.
“Silencing political dissent in the name of security or ideology is not acceptable. It is disturbing that in a short span of time nearly one thousand cases have been registered against social media platforms,” said PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar.
“Misuse and overuse of blanket orders issued last week by the interior ministry to take action against social media platforms in the name of national security is not acceptable,” he said. Interior minister Nisar had ordered the Cyber Crime Wing of the FIA to take action against those maligning army but sources said that the action was taken by the counter- terrorism wing of the FIA.