February 17, 2023
ISLAMABAD – A district and sessions court in Faisalabad has sentenced a PTI supporter to three years in prison for “defaming” the Pakistan Army by running a “highly obnoxious and intimidating campaign” against the senior military leadership on Twitter.
Sikandar Zaman, 30, was apprehended last year by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) after a complaint against him was lodged under sections 20 (Malicious code) and 24(c) (Legal recognition of offences committed in relation to information system) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. It also invoked sections 500 (Punishment for defamation) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
His account had 184 followers, according to the Pak Lawyers Forum.
— Azhar Mashwani (@MashwaniAzhar) February 14, 2023
Zaman’s mobile phone and Twitter account were also seized by the police.
According to the first information report (FIR), as mentioned in the verdict, Zaman posted a tweet against the Pakistan Army “relating to the helicopter incident” last year with the intent to “spread panic” in society.
In August 2022, six army officers and soldiers embraced martyrdom after their chopper crashed in Balochistan’s Lasbela district. In the wake of the crash, a social media campaign emerged, which was condemned by the army as “insensitive”. The FIA had then begun tracing the culprits behind the campaign.
After Zaman’s arrest, the PTI supporter was presented before the court and a trial began. On February 8, the trial concluded and a subsequent order was announced by Additional Sessions Judge Munsif Khan.
The judgment, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated that the accused did not deny that the said Twitter account belonged to him.
“From the recovered mobile phone, a number of similar types of saved data were recovered from the memory of the mobile phone during forensic analysis, consisting of 1-29 pages. Although these 29 pages do not contain the alleged comments, it was explained by the technical staff of FIA that a forensic report of mobile phone has been prepared in the light of the scope provided by the IO (Investigating officer) and as per this scope, forensics was to be conducted regarding posts against the army.”
The court said that the timing of Zaman’s tweet was “relevant as the same has been commented on during the present political crisis of the country”.
“The accused himself admitted that he is a political worker of PTI. All the documentary evidence also supports the same. In the given circumstances, it cannot be considered that the accused has no mens rea (intent) and it was a simple comment without mala fide and specific purpose. Electronic crime/social media crime continues for a number of years.
“The accused had tried to create a dispute about the senior leadership of armed forces which naturally has an effect towards the subordinate officials and the general public,” the order highlighted.
It also said that the defence failed to vitiate the prosecution’s case regarding the alleged comments which, according to the court, were “self-speaking”.
“In view of the foregoing reasons and findings, it is held that the prosecution has fully established its case in the light of modern devices,” ADSG Khan said and convicted him under sections 20, 24(c) of PECA, 2016 and 500/505 of PPC.
The court sentenced Zaman to one year in prison under Section 20 of PECA and imposed a fine of Rs100,000 on him. Under Section 24 of the law, he was sentenced to one year in prison with a fine of Rs100,000.
“The convict Sikandar Zaman is also convicted u/s 500 PPC and sentenced to one year S.I. with a fine of Rs10,000,” the court said.
Under section 505, he was convicted for three years, and fined Rs50,000. The sentences were to be carried out concurrently.
It further ordered that Zaman be taken into custody and sent to jail.
“His surety stands discharged from the liability of bail bond. The mobile phone recovered during the raid from the convict be confiscated in favour of the state,” the court order added.
Meanwhile, PTI’s social media focal person Azhar Mashwani has said that the party’s Insaf Lawyers Forum was trying to reach out to Zaman’s family.
“Inshaallah the decision will be challenged and the sentence will be suspended,” he tweeted.
Lasbela chopper crash
An army helicopter had crashed in Lasbela on Aug 1, 2022, amid flood relief efforts in Balochistan, leaving six officials — including a corps commander — martyred.
After the chopper crash, a section of social media activists and certain political zealots launched an abhorrent and unacceptable online campaign to advance their personal and political malice, which drew a strong reaction from people belonging to all walks of life, political leadership and state institutions.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had also condemned the “highly unacceptable and regretful social media campaign”.
Meanwhile, the ruling coalition had blamed the PTI’s social media team for launching the smear campaign at the behest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
The Federal Investigation Agency had then sprung into action and constituted a four-member team. The team was tasked with pointing out, arresting and taking legal action against those running the malicious campaign.