Pakistan’s television regulator on Thursday (26) banned a well-known talk show 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 right-wing 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 reporters, 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 Mohammad.
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.
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, figures from the Center for Research and Security Studies and media show.
Liaquat, famous for combining religion and game shows, has often courted controversy.
Under military ruler Pervez Musharraf, he was forced to resign as junior religious affairs minister because of his views on the controversial blasphemy laws.
He was also unable to authenticate an alleged degree in Islamic Studies from a college in Spain. Known as doctor, he claims to have a diploma from a medical college in Pakistan.
In 2008, guests invited onto one of his shows said members of the Ahmadi minority should be killed.
Two well-known Ahmadis were subsequently murdered, although there was no evidence linking their killings to the TV show.
In 2013 he was unrepentant about the storm over his Ramadan show, which saw him give babies away to childless couples, denying the move was a ratings stunt.
“People love me, that is why they watch me. Through television we spread the message of tolerance,” he told reporters at the time.
One of the targets of Liaquat’s show was activist lawyer Jibran Nasir, who filed a police complaint under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act on Thursday charging him with “running a defamatory and life-threatening campaign”.
Classical dancer Sheema Kirmani has received death threats after Liaquat targeted her on his January 19 broadcast.
Classical dance was banned under the regime of military dictator Zia ul Haq, who pushed for greater “Islamisation” of Pakistan in the 1980s, as being associated with obscenity.
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.’”