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Pakistan investigation agency targets activists for ‘anti-army campaign’

Pakistan’s main civilian investigation agency has launched a crackdown on social media activists for what it said was an “organised campaign” online against the armed forces.

world Updated: May 23, 2017 09:09 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan social media crackdown,Pakistan army,Pakistani bloggers
Six people were detained over the weekend, most of them active bloggers, for questioning regarding their social media posts on the armed forces.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Pakistan's top civilian investigation agency has launched a crackdown against social media activists for what it said was an "organised campaign against the armed forces", rounding up more than a dozen of them for questioning.

The powerful military has distanced itself from the drive ordered by interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, saying it had nothing to do with the move.

Over the weekend, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which comes under the interior ministry, initially detained six people, most of them active bloggers, to question them regarding their social media posts on the armed forces. Those arrested included a member of the ruling PML-N party. They were all subsequently released.

The action was taken by the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing, instead of its cyber crime wing, under Pakistan's draconian cyber crime laws. The FIA said in a statement it had identified dozens of suspects involved in what it called an “organised” campaign on social media against the armed forces.

Military officials privately told the media they had nothing to do with the operation. "We are not part of this and neither were we consulted," said a senior official who asked not to be named.

The action was ordered by interior minister Khan around a week ago, after he took notice of online criticism of the armed forces following the May 10 announcement by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the military’s media arm, of the withdrawal of a tweet that rejected the government’s notification on the findings of a panel that was set up to investigate a story published in Dawn newspaper last year.

An FIA official told the media that individuals would be charged only after a detailed forensic analysis of their social media accounts because it had become common for users to employ fake identities and post in other people’s names.

Forensic teams from the FIA’s cyber crime wing have been examining the Facebook accounts of suspects, WhatsApp groups, blogs and websites where such a material was uploaded.

Media reported that so far, around 22 people, mostly from Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and the PML-N, were taken into custody by the FIA for interrogation regarding their posts on social media. But this number has not been officially confirmed.

In a related development, an Islamabad-based journalist who works for several foreign organisations has said he will approach the Islamabad high court through his lawyer, prominent rights activist Asma Jahangir, because the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing had been harassing him.

Taha Siddiqui, who also reports for an Indian news channel, told the media that an FIA official had called him last week and asked him to come in for questioning.

First Published: May 22, 2017 15:35 IST