Pakistan’s Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) has come under fire after two TV channels aired ‘hateful’ content against the minority Ahmadiyya community.
Pakistan’s NEO TV and Channel-92 labeled Ahmadis as ‘Blasphemers’ and ‘Traitors’ in their TV show, Harf-e-Raz, and Subh-e-Noor which were aired in the first week of September. Following the airing of the programs representatives of Ahmadiyya community filed complaints against the two TV channels with PEMRA.
The complaint filed by Ahmadiyya representatives stated that “The programs were provocative against a minority whose members are already threatened, harassed and have suffered a number of terrorist attacks in the past, Such programming serves no national interest and is rather an incitement to violence against minorities which is in violations of National Action Plan and Pemra laws,“.
Following the complaint, PEMRA referred the case to it’s Council of Complaints for action, which summoned the program hosts and representatives of the Ahmadiyya community to their regional office in Lahore. On September 29th, the day of the ruling one of the defendants Orya Maqbool Jan along with several prominent lawyers lead a mob of over 100 people to the council’s office and demanded the complaints against the TV channels be dismissed.
PEMRA said in a statement that in response to a public announcement made on Facebook by Orya Maqbool Jaan, the anchor of Neo TV, over 100 lawyers and other people, led by Mr. Jaan, entered the conference room of the authority’s office and raised slogans.
The mob front man Azahar Siddique who is a Pakistan Supreme Court Advocate and self-proclaimed Human Rights Activist led the mob into a chant of “Curse be upon the Mirzais (Ahmadis), Curse be upon the wellwishers of the Mirzais (Ahmadis), Whoever is a friend of Mirzais (Ahmadis) is a Traitor “
A Pemra official said the authority had to call the police to control the situation and Police had to rescue the representative of the community “Police rescued representatives of the Ahmadiyya community who could not record their statements before the council,” he said.
Controversy Surrounding the Decision
On the evening of September 29th, PEMRA released a statement which said: “The Council unanimously recommended the complaint is non maintainable in the light of the spirit of provisions of the constitution of Pakistan.”
Ahmadiyya community’s spokesperson Saleemuddin said that PEMRA had issued the judgment “under pressure” and the community’s complaint was not even heard as they had been escorted out of the conference room due to the unruly crowd.
The same evening chairperson of the complaints council Dr. Mehdi Hassan spoke to Voice of America Radio and denied dismissing the complaint and said:
“If something else has been published in the press release then whoever wrote that did it due to the pressure of the 100 or so people who raised slogans.
I implored the crowd that we have not yet made a decision on whether the complaint (of Ahmadiyya community) is maintainable or not and due to the atmosphere that has been created in the conference hall, we can not objectively make a decision. Yet they continued to raise slogans and alleged that I am not authorized to make the decision on the complaint since they have doubts about my faith”
Social Media Reactions
The controversy even attracted attention from across the border in India. Actor Rishi Kapoor reacted to PPP Politician Jahanara Wattoo’s tweet about the incident and said:
Journalist Wajahat Khan and Rights activist Marvi Sirmed also chimed into the discussion.
This is not the first time that Pakistani channels have been accused of incitement to violence. In December 2014, the popular Geo TV aired a morning show Subh-e-Pakistan in which clerics accused the Ahmadiyah community of backing terrorism in the country. Five days after the show, an Ahmadi youth was shot dead. Ahmadis blamed the channel for inciting violence.
Ahmadiyya Muslims are a persecuted minority in Pakistan. The community was declared ‘non-Muslim’ through a constitutional amendment in 1974 and has since faced ‘legalized persecution’. The law states that the Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslim or “pose as Muslims,” an act punishable by upto three years in prison. By law, it is also a punishable offense for Ahmadis to refer to their places of worship as Mosques.