PAKISTAN: The state must prosecute TV channels inciting violence against liberals and secular elements

The government of Pakistan is conspicuously silent on an organised and malicious campaign started by two television channels for inciting hate and violence against activists who are protesting for the recovery of five disappeared bloggers. The campaign was so strong that at one point a strong group of religious fundamentalists attacked the activists who were protesting in Karachi for the safe recovery of missing bloggers, however, with the timely intervention of administration the bloody clash was avoided. The religious zealots were armed with wooden and iron sticks to teach the protestors that Pakistan is not for secular persons.

The missing bloggers, Mr. Salman Haider, Professor at Fatima Jinnah University, Islamabad, Waqas Goraya, Netherlands-based, Asim Saeed, of Lahore, Mr. Ahmed Raza Naseer, of Shekhupura, Punjab and Samar Abbas, resident of Karachi, were disappeared after their arrests in the first ten days of the New Year, 2017. Till date their whereabouts are unknown, though the federal minister for interior Mr. Choudhry Nisar Ali Khan, within three days of disappearance of bloggers, hinted that the they are with secret agencies and will be released after some inquiry.

A notorious religious scholar, Amir Liaquat Hussain, anchor person at Bol TV, is leading the campaign the hate and violence against social activists and journalists. Mr. Hussain claims himself to be a doctor but he does not have degree of medicine or Ph.D. Another zealot, Mr. Orya Maqbool Jan, a retired bureaucrat, through Neu News channel, follows Hussain’s campaign. 

This is not the first time that Mr. Hussain is inciting violence, earlier in the year 2008 he has called upon the Muslims to kill Ahmadis, a minority religious group, which resulted in the killing of two innocent Ahmadi men. Please see the link;

Though, the government has yet not framed any charge against the missing bloggers but these two channels particularly Mr. Hussain of Bol TV has charged them of committing blasphemy and he based his campaign that bloggers and the activists who are protesting for their release are blasphemers, which are according to the fundamentalists are liable to be killed. Blasphemy is a malevolent tool that is used to malign the critics and dissenters of state hegemonic policies.

The rights based activists claim that purpose of such campaign is to divert the issue of disappearances and extra judicial killings, which has gain very strong momentum in the country.

Perhaps not expecting any protest for their disappearances the state panicked by the snowball effect it has on the protests popping in all major cities of Pakistan the state initiated a smear campaign aimed at silencing the agitation and demand for the recovery of the activists.

Recently in a programme “Aisay Nahe Chale ga” ( this will not continue) aired on Bol TV, Amir Liaqat Hussain went all out and called for the murder of these bloggers who –he alleges- have committed blasphemy by bad mouthing the prophet and Islam. The anchor passionately called on the believers to seek revenge on these “RAW (Indian intelligence agency) agents” who were running blasphemous Facebook pages Bhensa, Mochi and Roshni( bull, cobbler, and light) a charge vehemently denied by the families of the missing activists. 

Without citing any proof of the involvement of these bloggers Mr. Liaqat claims that they are now running the pages from India. Perhaps Mr Hussain ignored getting his facts rights while misleading his viewers. The controversial pages have been taken over by the Elite cyber force. As per the allegation of the anchor “Bhensa” face book page is being run from India and RAW however the page information states ” The page is now run by Elite Cyber Force of Pakistan. All blasphemous and offensive material has been removed”. The question thus arises that if the missing activists as claimed by Mr. Liaqat have not been picked rather they have absconded to India would Mr Liaqat state how did they end up there? As the CCTV camera footage shows Salman Haider being dragged away, while the witnesses to the enforced disappearance claim the involvement of Law enforcement agencies.

He regularly expresses an open hatred of Pakistan’s minority groups, and his influence stretches far by way of daily on-air sermons and articles he writes for the Daily Jang newspaper.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) did not take any disciplinary action against him even after the incident. A cursory look at the Talk shows will reveal the state’s hypocrisy at dealing with hate speech. The establishment has strategically placed its mouthpiece at several channels who parrot the narrative suited to their vested interest. By inciting people to act against blasphemers, the state can wipe its hands clean of murder as “collateral damage” caused due to the cavalier attitude of the unfortunate leftist activists. 

Many activists have raised their concerns that the state is perhaps relying on mob vigilance to do away with the bloggers after they are released. To date at least 68 people linked to blasphemy accusations have been killed by vigilantes or mobs since 1990.The state it appears seem to have resorted to its most lethal weapon- blasphemy -when all efforts to prove any charges against them have failed.

a statement released to the media by the relatives of missing activists states “Such elements are trying to paint our missing family members as anti-state and anti-religion and inciting people to commit violence against them and our families”

The media and deep state in connivance have gone all out to eradicate dissent using blasphemy allegation. What right does anyone have to conduct a media trial of the bloggers thus putting their lives at risk? By allowing the programmes to continue PEMRA has become a party to the verbal violence that the families of the missing bloggers are subjected to every day. Why is due process circumvented does the state wants to teach these bloggers a lesson by instigating a fanatic to kill them? One need not look further than the case of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer to figure out how serious the repercussions can be for anyone who is accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. 

Perhaps “Bol” channel has forgotten the victimisation it has suffered not long ago it was the civil society that has came to its rescue. AHRC and other human rights organisations raised their concern with the government and other relevant authorities that finally allowed it to go on air.

The systemic wiping out of the intellectuals and human rights defender is deplorable and condemnable, the intellectual genocide must halt immediately by allowing extremists elements to propagate their hate and silencing the moderates the state is infringing upon the people’s right to freedom of speech.

States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions this is the very strength that all encompassing institutions fear the most. By enacting draconian measures to suppress dissent and using arm wrangling tactics of enforced disappearances the state has manifested its weakness at curbing the voice of rationale. 
History of the world is a testament to the fact whenever the atrocity reaches their height the hegemonic estates uses all their power to silence the voices demanding justice. This is the beginning of the end for tyrannical rule as from that point on voices of conscience become louder and louder.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government to prosecute anchor person, Amir Liaquat Hussain for inciting religious hate and violence against the social activists and missing bloggers. The TV channels, Bol and Neu News, must be dealt with the laws of PEMRA and channels must be tried under National Action Plan (NAP).

The AHRC considers freedom of speech to be an important right, but it also insists on the right of the individual to personal safety and freedom from persecution. That Pakistan allows the use of broadcasting tools to spread direct messages of intense harm and hatred as a religious duty, is utterly disturbing.