Pakistan: Two Pakistani journalists arrested under the cybercrime act

Two Lahore-based journalists, Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat, were booked under the cybercrime act by the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) urge the government to withdraw the cases and release the journalists.

Imran Shafqat on his YouTube channel, 'Tellings with Imran Shafqat'. Credit: Tellings with Imran Shafqat / YouTube

Both journalists were arrested by police in Lahore on the morning of August 7 . Shafqat Imran, who is a vlogger on YouTube, was arrested from his house at 10am. It was reported on that Amir Mir was abducted and that his laptop and phone have been snatched. Following strong protests by journalist unions that permeated into social media, the FIA confirmed the arrest and released both journalists on bail on Saturday evening.  
On Saturday night, the FIA issued a press release stating that the two journalists had criticised the national security agencies and the judiciary, damaging public confidence. It also said that they had been arrested and released on bail. The journalists were charged under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.
A letter was issued by FIA central office Islamabad on August 5, directing FIA Lahore to take action against the two journalists. The letter said that Imran and Mir were running baseless news on YouTube against the judiciary and national institutions so the action should be taken against them. However, Mir rejected all allegations against him and denied working against the national security institutions. He contended that his reporting is in the public interest and in line with the country’s laws.
According to the IFJ’s South Asia Press Freedom Report 2020-2021, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which criminalises free speech and gives overarching powers to law enforcement authorities, has been consistently overused in Pakistan to clamp down on free speech. The report found the boundaries of free speech indiscriminately scrunched in violation of Pakistan’s constitutional guarantees.
PFUJ general secretary, Rana Muhammad Azeem, said: “PFUJ will follow the case in support of journalists to get it quashed … We believe in freedom of speech and expression and will oppose every effort to curb this by any quarter"
The IFJ said: “The increasing number of cases against journalists related to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act is leading to freedom of the press being suppressed. The IFJ urges Pakistani authorities to withdraw the cases against Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat and to stop using the PECA law against journalists.”

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