In authoritative governments, acts as simple as holding a poster and hanging a picture can get one in trouble. Fascist regimes in history have had a way of elevating symbols and gestures to great importance, so much so that small acts of defiance- wearing a badge, refusal to salute, not giving up a bus seat- can result in jail, or worse.

It is unfortunate then that our democratically elected and civil rights upholding government has decided to go down this route when it comes to visits of foreign dignitaries. In today’s technology-driven world, the equivalent of holding a poster of a defiant figure is the uploading of a display picture, or at least that is what happened in this case of Murtaza Solangi and several journalists who had inquiries initiated against them. According to reports, several journalists were targeted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s Cyber Crime Wing for allegedly executing what it called “a targeted social media campaign” against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman during his February visit to Pakistan. According to the letter issued by the FIA against the journalists, their crime included displaying “the picture of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on their social media profile DPs which conveyed a very disrespectful message to the visiting guest.”

Uploading a picture of a political figure may be an act of dissent by citizens, which is a right guaranteed by the constitution. If peaceful dissent against a political figure is not a crime, then dissent against a foreign political figure would certainly not be either, nor would it warrant any investigation. A display picture of Zulfiqar Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif would not be the cause of investigation, and would simply be considered support for the opposition. It is thus unjustifiable why support for an internationally renowned figure, whose death caused shockwaves around the world, is regarded as suspicious.

Moreover, while this may be a step by the government to demonstrate its friendship with Saudi Arabia, acts like these are often counter-productive. If the objective was to allow Saudi Arabia to save face, this unnecessary step brings greater focus on Khashoggi and his murder- something that will only upset the Crown Prince. By starting this completely needless investigation, not only does the government bring more international attention to censorship of journalists, we also risk offending the Crown Prince, who probably wants the Khashoggi incident to go away silently.