In these times where we remind ourselves the importance of accountability and respect to institutions, let us not forget the very fine line between contempt of court and freedom of speech. Political criticism of our state institutions is a fundamental component of freedom of expression and necessary for our institutions to grow.

Unfortunately, it seems that this lesson doesn’t register for some of the executive, for whom the scope of “treasonous speech” keeps expanding. The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime wing arrested on Friday two men suspected of posting on social media material and content deemed to be contemptuous of major state organs.

While punitive measures for speech has always been a blotch upon our country’s image, this time, the actions of the accused weren’t even necessary controversial or religious. The FIR lodged against them charged them with inciting hatred among the public through uploading defamatory images of Supreme Court judges and member of armed forces through their twitter accounts. The grounds set in the FIR seem dangerously close to outlawing criticism of any member of the state institutions. This seems less like protection of public and more like state oppression and censorship on freedom of expression. It is telling that hate speech in the parliament goes unnoticed by law, but a tweet warrants arrest.

Since the two posters were PML-N supports, this is construed as an attack on the party. Certainly, Nawaz seems to think so, as he demanded their recovery in a statement. While Nawaz needs a lesson on respecting institutions, curtailing freedom of speech sets a terrifying precedent and is reflective of Pakistan’s dark past with forced disappearances.

It seems ironic that right around this time, Zeenat Shehzadi, one of the Pakistani’s only women journalist to be involved in a forced disappearance case, has been recovered. Shehzadi’s case highlights the arbitrary standards set by the invisible police for speech, as her investigative piece for an Indian national was not either particularly controversial as well.

Do the authorities want to set a precedent for people getting arrested over a political tweet? Will cartoons and comics of political figures also come under defamatory images in the near future? While respect of the law and executive is essential, especially in these times where certain politicians are testing the limits, the institutions must realize that this is a trap that could be used upon them by their so-called rivals as well. Freedom of speech should not be a casualty in the tussles of parliament and judiciary.