The Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016 (PECA) was designed to protect the personal information of social media users and provide them with a safe cyberspace. But journalists, who play an important role in guiding the public and society, have still not benefited from this law. Instead of implementing this law, every government seems to take action against journalists who disagree with the government. decisions and aware of the public.
Pakistan ranks 157th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom index in 2022 due to a crackdown on dissident journalists. According to a report based on UNESCO’s Journalist Safety Index, journalists need continuous training and technical skills to work in the field and protect themselves. Although it is clear from the report of international organizations, journalists in such a situation face similar problems at national and local levels, in which government institutions are unable to deliver justice due to limited resources.
Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of the press and access to information, but true freedom of journalism is lacking. Although government institutions are not solely responsible for pressuring the media, pressure groups at the local level are also responsible. Something like this happened to a resident of Tehsil Kabirwala, Dist. Khanewal, Kabirwala resident Amjad Nadeem has been associated with the press and electronic media for 14 years. He was associated with SAMAA News as an outside reporter from March 2018 to July 2020. While reporting on local issues and chores, he was targeted by various mafias. Unknown social media IDs started impersonating him on social media and revealed his personal information on the same posts with fabricated chats, due to which he started receiving threatening calls to kill him and her children, from inside and outside the country. Let’s explore the issues Amjad faced and the stress he went through in this case.
Amjad’s friends informed him on the afternoon of May 15, 2020 about social media posts and tweets as well as screenshots of a conversation between him and an unknown local woman that were allegedly posted and tweeted by unknown handlers. It was alleged that he was harassing a girl by posing as an influential person based on his journalistic connections and community and forcing her to develop relationships and extort money from the girl. It went viral in no time on Twitter.
The news was nothing short of a tragedy for him which damaged his reputation as the woman turned out to be from the Syed family and the Syed community of Kabirwala has enough influence. So he was scared and feels that his life is threatened. Unknown IDs attempted to associate this case with a religious label in an effort to evoke immediate emotional reactions and hurt themselves as much as possible.
Amjad says the alleged tweets and posts have been shared thousands of times, prompting an immediate backlash, but he bravely controlled his nerves when he was called a blackmailer and an atheist.
Amjad immediately made a video in this regard in which he expressed his indifference to the matter and asked the heads of the district administration to investigate the matter and assured them of his cooperation to prove that it was clean. In view of the sensitive nature of the case, the District Administration registered FIR No. 182/20 against unidentified persons under the Telegraph Act, Section No. 25-D of 1885 and Section 506 TP at the post Kabirwala Town Police Force on 21st May 2020 in favor of Complainant Mr. Muhammad Amjad who requested civil security personnel during FIR registration.
According to district police department spokesman Imran Chaudhary, social media related cases are outside the jurisdiction of the police department and the police department lacks modern equipment, software and trained personnel. .
According to Amjad, the only cybercrime unit that works under the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Multan, he has submitted a request to investigate the case. He had visited the FIA office four times so far after almost two years. Even the defendants who committed the crimes could not be identified, while the legal proceedings are far away. ASI Muhammad Shehzad, FIA Cyber Crime Wing Multan, admitted that the agency does not have any device or procedure to track proxy-run social media accounts. To know the current status of the case, the said official was called several times and also asked for information via text message, but no response was received from him after the first call.
The District Police Department and Federal Investigative Agency were requested to provide information on August 21, 2022 via email referencing Muhammad Amjad Nadeem’s request and the FIR under the right to information, but no response was received. After 17 days, on September 6, 2022, a reminder was sent again and asked to provide information, on which no response was received from both institutions despite the passage of another 15 days. However, this request is forwarded to the Federal Information Commission to redirect the departments to respond to the requests.
Amjad says he knocked on every department’s door seeking justice for four months after this incident, while SAMAA News removed him as Kabirwala Station Reporter (OSR) and also removed him from a certain group of OSRs.
In this regard, Amjad discussed the matter with SAMAA News Multan Bureau Chief Aamir Iqbal Bhutta and informed him that he had been removed from the organization after his social media allegations were brought to light. knowledge of the channel’s news director. He continued to elucidate the channel’s management on this matter and finally, after a year and a half, he decided to go to the Karachi office of Samaa News and meet with the news director. In this regard, when Amir Iqbal Bhutta was called for his views on the matter, he declined to speak about the incident.
This trip and effort did not work out for Amjad as he went to the office every day to meet with Samaa News’ news director for four days and returned unsuccessfully in the evening. Still, Amjad hopes that the organization will restore his OSR ship because for him, this issue is important in terms of economic position as well as social reputation. Amjad was associated with Samaa News for more than two years, but he did not receive a written contract, so he could not file a complaint against the organization.
In this regard, when the writer contacted Samaa News office in Karachi, it was found that two news directors were changed after this incident, while the current news director, Faisal Ayub, was unaware of this incident. According to current editor Saqib Maniyar, no one in the current team, including him, is aware of the incident.
Muhammad Amjad says if he does not get a positive response from the organization, he will have to start his own channel on YouTube and continue journalism so that he does not fall victim to financial and social exploitation by other organizations in the future and he will be free to continue his work.
According to information available on the Internet regarding the performance of the FIA, 110,938 complaints were registered in 2021, of which 1,332 cases were registered during the investigation of 17,102 complaints, of which 591 cases were disputed, 1,411 arrests were made, which were based on financial crimes, harassment, defamation, harassment of women, child pornography and successfully resolved high profile cases. While in total over 100,986 complaints were resolved in 2021. While 94,227 complaints were registered in 2020, in addition to the remaining 17,754 complaints from 2019, a total of over 112,181 complaints were resolved in 2020.
Likewise, the number of complaints received by the FIA in 2021 was 95,567. Around 20% of the total complaints in 2021 were related to blackmail and online harassment on social media/internet. While 205 FIRs were registered and 178 arrests were made for online defamation.
According to High Court lawyer Rana Tariq Mehmood, the defendants involved in this incident with Amjad are guilty of cybercrime clause 10-A (incitement to hatred) and 14-A (impersonation of others) of cyber terror. Looking at the performance of institutions, it is clear that cybercrime complaints are increasing every day, for which local police stations should have a cybercrime wing equipped with modern devices and software for quick and basic investigation. And this cell transfers the case to the FIA for the necessary legal proceedings after investigation.
Khanewal 92 News District Reporter Ruman Choudhary says regarding difficulties in journalism that there is no doubt that as a journalist he is asked not to print the news, hide the facts through people of his social circle by others and when their news is shared on social media, in general netizen comments, journalists are called blackmailers, which is admittedly painful, but so far he has been at the safe from this kind of serious behavior.
Deputy Director of Punjab General Public Relations Directorate Khanewal District Salman Khalid says his department does not provide any assistance to journalists in this regard but it is the responsibility of the channel or newspaper concerned not to not leave their representative alone in difficulty and to provide regular support based on merit.
Sajjad Akbar Shah, Vice President of Press Club Kabirwala, said the press club immediately informed local notables about the incident with Amjad and also briefed them on the possible motives behind the incident and the kind of people responsible. for this case so that no such provocation spreads in the city and the case can be resolved amicably.
According to former President Tehsil of the Khanewal Union of Journalists, Sajid Khan, society mafias currently have a very effective method of impersonating a journalist to silence him. The biggest tragedy is that in such a situation, the news agencies that employ the local journalist also leave him. While in the case of Amjad, the journalists’ organization had convinced the district administration that it was their responsibility to provide timely protection to journalists in such cases, whereby any possible harm was avoided in this case.
If such incidents are not dealt with in a timely and real sense, a certain community in society that plays an important role in improving and reforming society will disappear.