Social media posts about government flaws declared ‘healthy criticism’
KARACHI: A court has asked government institutions to take people’s social media posts highlighting alleged irregularities’ in their functioning as ‘healthy criticism’ instead of treating them as suspects who committed online defamation.
Judicial Magistrate (East) Mukesh Kumar Talreja made this observation while dismissing an application of an investigating officer of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) seeking permission of the court to obtain record from the social media platform Twitter in respect of an inquiry launched against a citizen on the complaint of an official of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).
The IO, Inspector Mohammad Arif, said that Nadra director-human resource retired Lt Col Rizwan Sartaj had filed a complaint alleging that one twitter account in the name of Atika Malik was spreading false information and running a malicious defamatory campaign against the authority.
The magistrate said that after perusing the record and the screenshots of the alleged twitter account, it became evident that these tweets were just pointing out the lacunas and irregularities committed within the department as well as in the welfare policies of employees.
Court dismisses FIA’s plea seeking order to get information from Twitter
The judge expressed his surprise as to how the FIA’s Cyber Crime Circle approved the registration of an inquiry despite the fact that the Islamabad High Court recently struck down few words of Section 20 (1) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016 by declaring it “to be ultra vires to the Constitution”.
The judge also quoted the court’s order that declared that “the offence under Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 to the extent of the expression or harms the reputation and the punishment thereof is unconstitutional, invalid beyond reasonable doubt and is, therefore, struck down”.
He added that the court had only declared the words “or harm the reputation” and its punishment as ultra vires to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, thus rendering the same as unconstitutional and invalid.
The judge observed that explicitly it appeared from Section 21(1) that a person would be guilty of an offence if he intentionally and publically disseminate false information causing intimidation or harm to the privacy and reputation of ‘natural person’.
He pointed out that a ‘natural person’ is said to be a living human being to whom legal system may attach rights and duties.
“Whereas the expression ‘person’ is specifically defined under Section 11 of Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, which means the ‘person’ includes any Company or Association, or body of persons, whether incorporated or not. So, it would definitely be not out of question to say that a company and /or Government Institution does fall within the ambit of a person as illustrated under Section 11 of PPC,” he added.
The court declared that in the present case no offence had been made out at the very initial stage, thus calling of record from social networking website Twitter would be nothing but a futile exercise.
“Looking at the allegations so levelled by a government institution that it has been defamed, I must say that it would have been rather better to consider the tweets as healthy criticism and the person who is posting such tweets would have been treated as whistleblower, however with regret and disappointingly, the situation is otherwise,” he remarked.