Pakistan’s media watchdog on Thursday accused a prominent television preacher of hate speech and banned his hugely popular show, silencing the high-profile host after years of controversy.
Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a charismatic star criticized since 2013 for giving out babies to childless couples live on prime time television, had been accused of inciting hate against supporters of five progressive activists who disappeared earlier this month. He was told his program on Bol News had been ended “with immediate effect” and prohibited from appearing on the channel “in any manner” even in old footage, with Bol warned it would lose its license if it did not comply.
Hussain was also prohibited from delivering “any hate speech” or branding anyone an infidel or a traitor on any other channel, according to the statement from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). It said the decision came after Hussain had been monitored for several weeks, and that it had received “hundreds” of complaints about his repeated violations.
Rights activist Jibran Nasir, who has spearheaded some of the demonstrations over the missing bloggers and is among those maligned by Hussain, tweeted that a police complaint had also been made. “PEMRA did its job & we should be glad about it but our real job is still left. We can rejoice when the missing come back home. Back to work!” he wrote.
The five bloggers were reported missing from various cities in Pakistan early this month, raising fears of a crackdown. Human Rights Watch said their near simultaneous disappearances raised concerns of government involvement, which officials and intelligence sources have denied.
A virulent social media campaign painting the missing as blasphemers has triggered a flood of threats despite denials from their worried families. The charge, which carries the death penalty, is hugely sensitive in Pakistan, where even unproven allegations have stirred mob lynchings and murder.
Hussain, a former lawmaker, is no stranger to 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 Ramzan 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 AFP at the time.