Pakistan TV stations have been banned from broadcasting speeches by former prime minister Imran Khan, the state media watchdog said, the latest hurdle facing the politician as he campaigns for early elections.
Khan was routed from office in a no-confidence motion last year and has been pressuring the fragile coalition which replaced him with daily speeches, regular rallies and allegations of corruption.
Meanwhile the 70-year-old former cricketing superstar has been tangled in a slew of elaborate legal cases, a frequent fixture in Pakistan’s mudslinging politics.
Late Sunday, as police attempted to arrest Khan in connection with a corruption case, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) banned his live speeches and reruns with immediate effect.
The order came after Khan addressed hundreds of supporters outside his house. “I am being summoned in fake cases and the nation should know about them,” he said.
“It will be a bad omen for the country if the nation does not stand against the corrupt rulers.”
PEMRA said he was “levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech… against state institutions and officers” which are “likely to disturb public peace”.
Hours after the notice, PEMRA also suspended private TV station ARY News, which backs Khan.
Pakistan has stringent speech controls. The constitution allows free speech to be restricted in the interests of “public order, decency or morality”, a provision rights groups say is designed to quash dissent.
TV channels are regularly ordered to modify their coverage for political reasons, and last month the Wikipedia website was briefly blocked for allegedly hosting “blasphemous content”.
Islamabad police officers, who travelled to Khan’s home in Lahore, were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to detain him on Sunday after he failed to appear in a corruption case late last month.
He is accused of failing to declare gifts received during his time in office or the profit made from selling them.
In 2018, Khan swept to power thanks to an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of Pakistan’s two major parties.
He promised to do away with entrenched corruption and cronyism, but has become bogged down in like-for-like allegations with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Nonetheless Khan remains hugely popular among the nation’s youth, and his speeches draw huge viewer figures on television while the highlights trend on social media.