PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz has criticised the government over the Federal Investigation Agency’s action of arresting a man in ‘broad day light’ in connection with running a ‘malicious campaign’ on social media, against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi.
According to media reports, the FIA on Monday arrested a man identified as Sabir Mahmood Hashmi in Model Town, Lahore for allegedly running a ‘propaganda campaign.’
According to The Friday Times on Monday, Hashmi had been out on bail in a case registered against him under Section 20 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
His last tweet was about the missing person Mudassar Naru whose son and grandparents appeared in Islamabad in connection to a case about missing persons.
“Mudassar Naru has been missing since 2018. He has not been recovered till today. At that time, his son Sachal was 6 months old. Today, he is celebrating his fourth birthday,” Hashmi wrote in his last Twitter post before his arrest.
Hashmi is widely believed to be a social media wing worker for the PML-N.
Earlier, in his meeting with PTI's Central Executive Committee the prime minister denounced the trend of personal attacks.
"Such elements cannot be left unchecked and their actions have to be condemned,” he was quoted in Pakistan Today as saying.
He was probably referring to tags like #BushraBibi and #FirstLady which were among the top trends in the country recently after what seems like an unverified video from what seems like a news programme, was shared by users on social media that made claims about the apparent separation between the premier and the first lady.
These trends also prompted State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib to issue a statement. He had called out “certain quarters” for pushing “fake stories” about the PM’s wife.
Reacting to Hashmi’s arrest, Maryam said, “Hashmi’s abduction in broad daylight testifies to the government’s disgust. Is [PM] Imran Khan a sacred cow whose looting and failures cannot be criticised?”
She added: “The whole party is standing with Sabir Mehmood at the moment. The FIA should also refrain from being instrumental in this declining government.”
Moreover, there were also some Twitter users who called for ending the campaign against the first lady.
The matter is still developing but the country has a long history of attempts to curtail freedom of expression. However, experts have expressed serious concerns over the journalist's arrest and other attacks on media professionals over the last two three years.
Last year in August, the FIA had arrested two journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat in Lahore for their "disrespectful attitude" against the Pakistan Army, the judiciary and women. Though, they were released upon bail their arrest was condemned by PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The FIA statement read that two YouTube channels the men were associated with, Googly and Tellings, were "releasing messages attempting to weaken national security institutions and the judiciary while also weakening public trust in the institutions."
On September 23, 2020, Islamabad police had to release a reporter on directives of Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah. The reporter had arrived at the high court to cover a hearing of an appeal filed by Maryam Nawaz against her conviction in the Avenfield corruption reference.
Moreover, in the same year, the FIA had held a Lahore based journalist for sharing anti-state content on Facebook.
A Karachi-based journalist was also taken into custody from his home in Karachi's DHA neighbourhood by Defence police on September 11, 2020 for "posting anti-military and alleged sectarian social media posts."
It is pertinent to mention that journalists harassment case has been running in court.
Experts have also cast doubts at the government measures to control media under the new regulatory authority and law on freedom of expression on social media.