ISLAMABAD: Dr Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, was arrested on Tuesday, the PTI said, a day after he made comments in a TV show that the national media regulator said were “seditious.”
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had issued a show-cause notice on Monday night to a private TV channel, ARY News, for airing a segment that included Gill’s comments, viewed as critical of the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as the high command of the Pakistan army.
In the segment, two hosts and Gill alleged that Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party had activated a “strategic media cell” to malign the PTI and its chairman and build a public narrative that the party was against Pakistan’s all-powerful army.
Gill also advised army officers during the show not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”
Hours after the segment was aired, ARY News executives said the channel had been taken off air across the country. On Tuesday afternoon, the PTI announced Gill's arrest.
“After the ban on ARY yesterday, they’ve today arrested @SHABAZGIL,” Khan's PTI party said in a Twitter post. “We strongly demand the immediate release of Dr Gill.”
The PTI also said Gill was attacked and his assistant was roughed up.
“In which democracy people are arrested like this,” the party said in a post showing a video of Gill’s car with a broken window.
Another PTI leader, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, said Gill had been “abducted” while driving to Khan’s residence by people who “came in vehicles without numberplates,” a widely used euphemism for intelligence officials.
ARY News is widely seen as being partial to ex-premier Imran Khan’s opposition PTI party, with criticism of the Sharif government’s political and economic policies a regular feature of news bulletins and current affairs shows.
In its show-cause notice, PEMRA said on Monday that the arrested PTI leader had made “highly hateful and seditious comments” which amounted to inciting the armed forces to rebel against their leaders.
“Airing of such content on your news channel shows either weak editorial control on the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individual who intent to spread malice and hatred against the state institutions for their vested interests,” the notice to the channel read, saying this was against the country’s constitution.
The regulator directed the chief executive officer of the channel to show cause in writing within three days, explaining why legal action should not be initiated against the channel for violating the law and the constitution.
On Monday evening, officials of the ARY channel said it had been taken off air in a number of cities.
“On the orders of PEMRA, cable operators across Pakistan have started removing ARY News from their cable network. Watch ARY News Live on Youtube,” Ammad Yousaf, senior executive vice president of ARY News, said.
The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) confirmed to Arab News the suspension of the channel’s transmission across Pakistan, saying it was done on the instructions of PEMRA.
“We have received verbal instructions from PEMRA about an hour ago to off air ARY News,” Wahaj Siraj, convener ISPAK and co-founder of Nayatel, a major Internet service provider, told Arab News. “No reason is given to us to off air the channel, and this is being done almost across Pakistan now.”
The channel was still off air as of Tuesday afternoon.