Pakistan TV Hosts Banned After Blasphemy Discussion

Hamza Ali Abbasi and Shabbir Abu Talib barred from hosting their Ramadan-themed shows

Pakistan’s TV regulator banned two TV hosts from appearing on their shows after a discussion about blasphemy and the status of a religious minority sparked controversy.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said Friday evening it banned Hamza Ali Abbasi, one of the country’s biggest TV stars, and Shabbir Abu Talib from hosting their Ramadan-themed shows after receiving over a thousand complaints.

Mr. Abbasi asked Islamic scholars during his broadcast earlier this month on the channel Aaj TV if the state had the right to declare a group of people infidels or non-Muslims. He referred specifically to the Ahmadiyya community, whose members consider themselves Muslims but are seen by orthodox schools of Islam as heretics and blasphemers.

Pakistan’s Parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment in 1974, and a decade later, they were barred from declaring themselves Muslims or preaching their faith.

Discussions about the community, and blasphemy in general, on Pakistani TV channels are rare. Hardline clerics and Islamist parties have often accused those who protest against the Ahmadiyya community’s persecution of blasphemy.

In response to the discussion on Mr. Abbasi’s show, TVOne channel host Mr. Talib last week invited Islamic cleric Kaukab Noorani Okarvi to comment.

Mr. Noorani accused Mr. Abbasi of “spouting rubbish” and “criminal” behavior. “Muslims cannot and will not listen to such discussions. If the law doesn’t decide, the Muslim will decide himself,” Mr. Noorani said, adding that “honorable” Muslims will not tolerate discussions that are against the honor of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan’s media regulator said Mr. Abbasi’s discussion was “untimely,” and the follow-up on Mr. Talib’s show incited “extra-judicial murder and bloodshed”. It said both hosts were being taken off air to prevent further controversy.

“Both channels have been ordered to immediately air an apology for broadcasting unprofessional and irresponsible discussions on sensitive matters,” the regulator said in a statement after a hearing on Monday. It said Mr. Abbasi and Mr. Talib can resume their shows only after the channels apologize on air.

Aaj TV issued a statement Tuesday offering an “unconditional apology for inadvertently hurting the sentiments of Muslims in Pakistan and abroad through broadcast of highly objectionable remarks of anchor Hamza Ali Abbasi in a show, making it clear that the anchor had raised that highly objectionable question on his own volition.”

“Hate only leads to damage, and is leading to damage,” Mr. Abbasi said in a post on his verified Facebook page Monday. He said it was his “final word on the matter.”

“I may have uttered some words and sentences that may have hurt some people’s feelings, but that was not my aim. I only wanted to express my faith,” Mr. Talib said in a TVOne broadcast on Tuesday.

“Some people thought that I was threatening people or inciting violence. I swear I wasn’t,” Mr. Okarvi, the cleric, said in the same broadcast.

Over 200 Ahmadis have been killed in the last few decades by extremist groups and vigilantes because of their faith, according to Saleem Uddin, a spokesman for the community in Pakistan.

Late Monday, an Ahmadi man was shot dead by unknown attackers in the southern city of Karachi, police said. Mr. Uddin, the Ahmadiyya spokesman, said the attack was religiously motivated.

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