A Pakistani opposition party led by former cricketer Imran Khan will take legal action against the government for detaining its vocal online activists under a controversial cybercrime law, a spokesman said Monday.
At least 23 supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) party have been detained and threatened with action under the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, Fawad Hussain Chauhdry, a spokesman for the party, said.
It is the first time the new law has been used in a broad crackdown against political opposition.
Two have been charged under the law, including one for sharing a satirical picture of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and are on bail pending further investigation.
“One of our supporters was abducted from Quetta and brought to Islamabad in an armoured car. People are being harassed and it is spreading fear,” the spokesman said.
He added the party would sue the government for intimidation and harassment in the Islamabad High Court.
In addition to the party activists, a Pakistani journalist said he had received an intimidating phone call from the Federal Investigation Agency last Thursday and was asked to appear in person to explain his social media activity.
Taha Siddiqui, who won France’s Albert Londres journalism prize in 2014 for a documentary he produced for France 2, said the call amounted to an attempt to intimidate him and he also planned to sue the government.
The interior ministry has declined to comment on the cases.
Parliament passed the cybercrime law last August, despite opposition from rights activists which said its wording was overly broad and would curb free speech.
Of particular concern was a clause that empowered the government to ban speech considered “against the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan”.
Free speech campaigners have long complained of creeping censorship in the name of protecting religion or preventing obscenity.
In January five secular activists known for their outspoken views against religious extremism and the powerful military disappeared – presumed abducted by state agencies, according to opposition parties and international rights groups.
Four of them were returned to their families weeks later, but not before they were tarnished by a virulent campaign to paint them as enemies of Islam deserving execution.