Pakistan’s television regulator has banned a well-known talkshow host for hate speech, after he hosted shows accusing liberal activists and others of blasphemy, an inflammatory allegation that could put their lives at risk.
Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Muslim-majority Pakistan that can result in the death penalty. Even being accused of blasphemy can provoke targeted acts of violence by religious rightwing vigilantes.
Aamir Liaquat Hussain, who describes his programme aired on Bol TV as the country’s leading television show, had been at the forefront of a campaign to discredit liberal activists who went missing this month, as well as those defending them.
In a document sent to Bol TV and seen by Reuters, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said Liaquat’s show “wilfully and repeatedly made statements and allegations which (are) tantamount to hate speech, derogatory remarks, incitement to violence against citizens and casting accusations of being anti-state and anti-Islam.”
Liaquat did not answer calls to his mobile telephone on Thursday and representatives of Bol TV were not immediately available for comment.
He had blamed several prominent Pakistanis for an anti-state agenda and being either sympathetic to, or directly involved in, blasphemy against Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad.
In 2011, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards after he called for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws.
Many in Pakistan felt that the governor’s critique of blasphemy laws made his death, if not justifiable, understandable – and others went even further.
Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed but not before becoming a hero in the eyes of the religious right.
At least 65 others have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from the Center for Research and Security Studies thinktank and media.
Liaquat, famous for combining religion and gameshows, has often courted controversy. He once gave away abandoned babies during a broadcast and caused uproar by airing vitriolic hate speech against the Ahmadi minority.
One of the targets of Liaquat’s show was activist lawyer Jibran Nasir, who filed a police complaint under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law on Thursday charging him with “running a defamatory and life-threatening campaign”.
Classical dancer Sheema Kirmani received death threats after Liaquat targeted her on his 19 January broadcast.
Classical dance was banned and associated with obscenity under the regime of military dictator Zia ul Haq, who pushed for greater “Islamisation” of Pakistan in the 1980s.
The situation is potentially worse now than during the Zia era, Kirmani said. “Previously the government could close the auditorium, or arrest you, but now anyone sitting in the audience can decide ‘I am not going to allow this.’