The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) sudden but swift action against social media activists supposedly involved in an “organised” campaign against the armed forces on social media is both shocking and very much over the top. The government has so far neglected to speak up – even though one of its own ranks has also been apprehended – but opposition parties such as PTI have threatened with protests if those arrested are not released.

It is still hard to believe how badly skewed the priorities of our law enforcement agencies are – accounts and pages promoting hate speech, extremism and even recruiting for terrorist organisations seem to slip under the surface while those criticising state institutions (even legitimately), or perceived to be making blasphemous statements are acted on with a heavy hand.

Criticising the army should not be a crime, but is now one, concocted under the cybercrime law by the state to suppress dissent. Article 34 in the law, which states that the government now has the power “to remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information through any information system if it considers it necessary in the interest the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan..” allows for the government to take sweeping action even when there is no need.

There is little to no justification for apprehending anyone seen to merely criticise the army. Ones’ right to express their opinions extends to criticising state institutions, even if the criticism is unwarranted. A personal opinion is just that – personal – and the state cannot dictate how the people must feel about their institutions. State institutions, particularly the army are seen as “above reproach” but what the guardians of these organisations fail to realise is that by putting themselves above reproach they are also automatically refusing to change for the better. The people have a right to question the decisions made by their government or the armed forces, and not fear for their lives.

This is not what the Cybercrime Law was supposed to achieve – the actual objective was to reduce the number crimes committed online, but the government does not seem too focused on that particular aspect. As expected, a witchhunt targeting social media activists, journalists and members of the intelligentsia has begun – it is only hoped that the opposition parties call the government out on this ridiculous behaviour before the public loses even more basic rights and freedoms.