ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Thursday took a TV host off the air over incitement, after he said five human rights activists who recently went missing and other liberal Pakistanis should be killed for blasphemy and sedition, officials said.
The state media regulator said that Amir Liaqat, a self-styled religious scholar, could no longer appear on the pro-military BOL TV, where he hosted a daily program, or any other local broadcast.
In case Liaqat violates the ban, the broadcaster would face legal actions, said Mohammad Tahir, an official with the state regulator. "Liaqat cannot call anyone an infidel or traitor," Tahir's statement said, adding that hate speech is a crime under Pakistani law.
The five activists and bloggers went missing earlier this month in separate incidents in Pakistani cities of Lahore, Nankana Sahib and Islamabad. They were known as vocal critics of Islamic extremism and Pakistan's military establishment. The government has said it is trying to find them.
On his show, Liaqat accused the five of blasphemy — an act that in Pakistan can lead to lynching by a mob. Liaqat also ridiculed left-leaning and secular people, claiming they are enemy of state and deserve to be killed.
The families of the missing activists have denounced Liaqat's claims. No group has claimed responsibility for abducting any of the five and no government department or intelligence agency has said it detained them. However, the families have said that some of them were seized from their homes by men who appeared to be plainclothes agents. The government denied that.
Local and human rights organizations have denounced the disappearances, saying they suspect the bloggers were abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies and accusing the authorities of cracking down on dissent.
Also Thursday, police in the garrison city of Rawalpindi registered a criminal case against Liaqat under an anti-terrorism law, accusing him of hate speech and murder threats, said police official Ghulam Abbas.
Liaqat lives in the port city of Karachi but his shows are broadcast from various places across Pakistan. Hate speech cases can be registered by police anywhere in the country. Once a case is registered, it effectively means the police are recommending the judiciary step in and raise criminal charges against an offender.
"We will arrest him," Abbas said, speaking of Liaqat.