Rights groups condemn crackdown on PTI supporters

    Human rights bodies have condemned the “crackdown” and held the new PML-N government responsible for detaining PTI supporters for posting hate material on social media against the Pakistan Army.

    The new arrests by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) brings the number of people detained in two days to 13.

    In a related development, the PTI social media chief Arslan Khalid Wednesday made a statement three days after he went silent following an alleged raid on his home. Khalid has advised PTI social media activists to use “respectful” means to criticise the government.

    The FIA carried out raids at several locations in various cities on Tuesday to arrest people behind Twitter trends against the Pakistan Army and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

    A Pakistan Army formation commanders’ conference on Tuesday took note of the “propaganda campaign” which they said was aimed at maligning the Pakistan Army and to “create division between the institution and society.”

    Counter-terror wing interrogates suspects

    A “mastermind” who was taken in from Lahore’s Sabzazar area was produced before a Lahore court and remanded into 14-day FIA custody for interrogation. Shafqat Masood Arif “was involved [in] sharing derogatory remarks against COAS and Pakistan army through his Twitter ID…” the FIA said in its plea before the judge, requesting his physical remand.

    The agency said that an initial inquiry had confirmed the “offence” and it wanted to interrogate the accused to recover “digital media.”

    Six other people were detained on Tuesday from Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Multan. Another six were arrested on Wednesday.

    The twelve people arrested in two days have been handed over to the counter-terrorism wing (CTW) of the FIA from the cybercrime wing, which was interrogating them earlier.

    CTW Director Humayun Sindhu is leading the interrogation under anti-terror laws.

    Rights bodies condemn arrests

    Meanwhile, rights bodies, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have blasted the arrests and demanded immediate release of the detainees, whom HRCP identified as PTI supporters.

    They have also demanded a repeal of all curbs on the fundamental rights including the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which the PTI government had sought to make more draconian through a presidential ordinance earlier this year. The Islamabad High Court struck down the PTI amendment last week.

    In a statement, Amnesty International’s South Asia Research Director Dinushika Dissanayake said: “The Pakistani authorities must stop using the draconian [PECA] to punish people who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression online. For far too long, successive governments have used this law as a tool to crush peaceful dissent and intimidate supporters of political opposition.

    Putting the number of people arrested at eight, Amnesty noted that all of them were detained by the FIA.

    “The eight people arrested across Punjab today must be immediately and unconditionally released. Instead of stepping up their efforts to quash dissenting voices, the Pakistani authorities should end their repressive crackdown on right to freedom of expression,” it said.

    HRCP said that “the recent wave of arrests and harassment of PTI supporters, allegedly for having been part of a ‘smear’ campaign against state institutions, must be condemned in no uncertain terms. All citizens, regardless of their political affiliation, enjoy the right to freedom of expression and opinion.”

    The HRCP urged the PML-N led government to not adopt tactics used by the PTI government. “The new government must not follow in the footsteps of the previous one and should ensure that entrenched curbs on this fundamental right are dissolved once and for all.”

    PTI’s Arslan Khalid issues statement

    PTI’s Arslan Khalid, who heads the party’s social media team, has been in news since Sunday when PTI leader Shehbaz Gill said that Khalid’s home was raided shortly after the National Assembly voted out Imran Khan from power.

    Gill said he hid Khalid at a secure location and that the men who raided the house took only a laptop and phones used for professional needs.

    Khalid in his statement, posted on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday, said that around 15 personnel in eight vehicles raided his house and left the family, especially his 80-year-old grandmother traumatized.

    Khalid, who has been accused by several social media users of heading smear campaigns against them, discussed the allegations he had faced over the years and said he never responded to “such bogus accusations” because they came from “people having zero credibility.”

    “But I was wrong and I didn’t realize that this calculated framing online would eventually result in a raid on my house,” said Khalid.

    He then listed his credentials and services for the country and discussed the praise he won from some of the “state officials” during the PTI rule.

    Khalid said given his work it was “very hurtful how I was treated by my own state and I hope nobody has to go through this in this country.”

    The PTI social media chief then advised party activists “to struggle for true democracy against this draconian imported setup… only through peaceful means.”

    “This includes using logic, data and evidence in a respectful way,” he said.

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