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FIA can probe Cynthia`s tweets: IHC

By Malik Asad 2020-06-23
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday dismissed the petition of US blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie seeking to set aside the order to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to proceed against her for defaming former prime minister and slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah ruled that the FIA was empowered to conduct an inquiry into the alleged derogatory tweets against Ms Bhutto even if no order had been passed by the learned Justice of Peace.

Soon after the dismissal of her petition, the Pakistan-based American blogger in another onslaught on chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior Rehman Malik addressed the media and hurled new allegations against him. She accused the PPP senator of telling her `horrific stories` against Ms Bhutto.

Earlier on June 15, Additional District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Jahangir Awan had on a petition of PPP`s Islamabad president Raja Shakeel Abbasi observed that `a crime has been committed falling under Pal(istan Electronic Crime Act-2016` and directed the FIA to conduct an inquiry and proceed against the blogger in accordance with the law.

Challenging the order of the sessions court before the IHC, the counsel for Ritchie, Imran Feroz Malik, argued that the judge `has ignored the fact that under the FIA laws, registration of FIR is not mandatory, it`s always subject to result of inquiry, and FIA has been vested with the power to refuse to register FIR if during inquiry the information is found to be false, hence an order directing the FIA to register FIR is otherwise against the express provisions of law hence are liable to be set aside`.

When the matter came up for hearing before the IHC on Monday, her counsel was asked how his client was aggrieved when the directive to the FIA was only to the extent of conducting an inquiry on the petition of PPP`s district leadership.

The counsel said the sessions court also decided the question of jurisdiction. He said the FIA in its reply to Judge Awan had expressed inability to proceed on the application of Mr Äbbasi. He pointed out that the FIA had discarded the PPP leader`s contention on the ground of locus standi [right of audience] as Mr Abbasi was not aggrieved person within the meaning of Prevention of Cyber Crime Act 2016. Yet Judge Awan directed the FIA to proceed against the blogger with the registration of an FIR, the counsel said.

The IHC chief justice, however, observed: `The competent authority of the Federal Investigation Agency while conducting an inquiry is expected to consider whether in the facts and circumstances of the case and the material collected during the course of inquiry an offence is made out under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and whether the Agency is vested with jurisdiction to proceed with the matter.

The competent authority would obviously be considering the material and then form an opinion whether or not to register a case, Justice Minallah added.

The IHC observed that the FIA was `empowered to conduct an inquiry even if no order had been passed by the learned Justice of Peace`. The agency, while proceeding in the matter, was expected not to be influenced by any observation made in the impugned order, Justice Minallah observed.

`This court is satisfied that interference is not required and, therefore, the petition is dismissed as being without merit,` the IHC ruled.

Following the dismissal of her petition as being without merit, Ms Ritchie spoke to the media and claimed that `certain events` in Pakistan prompted her to speak against the injustice. She disclosed that `certain people` within the PPP, including former interior minister Malik, told her horrific stories against Ms Bhutto.