Pakistan’s media watchdog has banned television channels from broadcasting live addresses by former prime minister Imran Khan, ahead of his rally last night.
Since being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April, the former cricketing star Khan has staged a series of popular anti-government protests.
The ban, effective immediately, was issued late on Saturday night – the same day Khan held a rally in the capital Islamabad in which he criticised police officials and the judiciary over the arrest of one of his party’s leaders.
In a notice to television channels seen by AFP, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said that Khan was levelling “baseless allegations and spreading hate speech”.
“His provocative statements against state institutions and officers ... is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity,” it added.
The ex-premier held another rally last night in the city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring Islamabad.
At the rally Khan accused the government of temporarily blocking YouTube in the country to prevent people from listening live to a speech he gave at a political rally.
“Imported govt blocked YouTube midway through my speech,” he said on Twitter.
A spokesman for the PEMRA did not respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had said shortly after Saturday’s television ban that it would go live on “500+ YouTube and Facebook channels”.
However, many social media users around Pakistan reported problems in accessing YouTube when Khan was about to address a gathering last night in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Khan said in his speech yesterday that he was being censored for not accepting the current coalition government which had voted him out of power.
He swept into power in 2018 thanks to an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country’s two major parties, with the popular former sports star promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism.
Khan remains highly popular among the country’s youth and his speeches draw top ratings on television, with highlights trending on Pakistan’s social media.
Saturday night’s protest followed the arrest of a senior PTI leader, who authorities alleged had made anti-military remarks on a TV channel that was subsequently suspended.
Criticising the military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its 75-year history – is considered a red line.
The television ban came a day after the former prime minister hurled threats against Islamabad’s police chief and a female judge for what he claimed was the arrest and alleged torture of his close aide who is facing sedition charges.
His aide had called on lower and middle ranks of the military to defy orders from the top brass.
A PTI senior official, Asad Umar, lambasted the media regulatory body’s move to ban Khan’s speeches.
“Banning Imran Khan’s speeches telecast is another attempt to find an administrative solution to a political problem,” Umar told AFP.
He added that his party will challenge the ban in court.