ISLAMABAD -  The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has decided to move the court over the alleged harassment of its workers and the citizens by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for writing ‘controversial’ comments on the social media maligning the army and the army chief.

The PTI has taken the decision following a country-wide crackdown by the FIA on social media activists for allegedly writing hate remarks against the armed forces soon after the army on May 10 withdrew a controversial tweet on the Dawn leaks issue making an end to the standoff between the military and the civilian government.

“We have decided to move to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the harassment of political activists, students, government employees and the common citizens by the FIA for writing ‘comments on the social media,” said PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry. “The FIA is using typical threatening tactics to harass the citizens as intimidating phone calls are being made to them instead of taking a proper legal route if anyone has taken the law into his/her hand,” he said adding that the PTI was receiving a number of complaints from all over the country. “We will request the court to ask from the FIA under what law these threatening calls are being made and how many people are under the scrutiny of the agency and what are the allegations against them,” he said.

An Islamabad-based journalist wishing anonymity told The Nation that last Thursday he received a threatening call from FIA Deputy Director Noman Bodla who introduced himself as an officer of the Counter-Terrorism Wing at FIA’s headquarters. “I was asked in a threatening tone to visit the FIA headquarters because a meeting is due with you,” he said. “You must have to come,” I was asked. “Bodla threatened me of dire consequences if I did not visit FIA headquarters,” he said.

The journalist’s name is included in a list of the FIA with a headline “the list of individuals spreading hate against armed forces and the chief of army staff” being circulated on the social media. However, the authenticity of the list could not be verified from the agency.

Earlier this week, the FIA had picked Salar Sultanzai, a former information secretary of PTI’s Balochistan chapter and founder of the party’s cyber force, from Balochistan and he was taken to Islamabad for investigation. Sultanzai was questioned about his recent social media posts over the Dawn leaks issue and later released on a personal surety of party’s counsel.

Fawad Chaudhry claimed that Owais Khan, another worker of the PTI, was also being harassed by the FIA.

“I have received a message of Shaukat Khan, a government employee, who is facing an investigation by the FIA for uploading a funny picture of the prime minister on the social media. We have received similar messages of other citizens including Imran Wassem and Ahmed Nadeem,” Chaudhry claimed. Similarly, he said, Haseeb Ahmed, president Insaf Students Federation, the student wing of the PTI, at Gomal University D I Khan is also facing the FIA probe for his comments on the social media, Chaudhry said. The PTI spokesperson said that the law enforcement agencies and the government should understand that there was always a difference between hate speech and the insult. “Insult doesn’t constitute hate speech and the people who are in public life should not be so sensitive about the social media. We are taking the country towards an authoritarian state,” he said.

Last Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar directed the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing to take action against those ridiculing the Pakistan Army on the social media. “Constitution makes it clear that national security and defence institutions would not be criticised in the name of freedom of speech,” the minister was quoted in a statement issued by the interior ministry.

 Nisar gave the directives in the wake of criticism of the army on the social media after the ISPR, the military’s media wing, withdrew a controversial tweet in connection with a notification issued by the Prime Minister Office regarding the implementation of recommendations of the inquiry committee about a news story published in Dawn.

Last year, the parliament passed the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 to regulate the social media amid reservations of human rights activists who said that the vague language of the law could lead to the imposition of restrictions on freedom of speech and unfair prosecutions. This time around, instead of the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing, its Counter Terrorism Wing is probing the social media activists.