Pakistan Bans ex PM Imran Khan’s Speeches

Pakistan’s media regulating body banned the airing of speeches and press conferences by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, claiming he is targeting state institutions and encouraging hatred. The move is being heavily criticized by human rights and freedom of speech advocates.

Imran Khan WEF2Imran Khan (Photo: Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum, Flickr, License)The move of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) came after Khan’s speech in Lahore in which he claimed that former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa removed him from office in April last year.

PEMRA said that Khan was “leveling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.”

The 70-year-old cricket star turned firebrand politician delivered the speech on Sunday after police tried to arrest him in a corruption case. Khan, who denies the corruption charges, avoided the arrest.

This is the third time PEMRA has banned broadcasters from airing Khan’s speeches and statements since he was ousted from office and then galvanized massive rallies demanding fresh elections.

Hours after the ban, the regulator suspended the license of ARY News, a private news channel and broadcaster for airing Khan’s speech in Lahore.

Shireen Mazari, a politician belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, said PEMRA is being used as a political tool.

"The ban has always been revoked by the courts in Pakistan because it's against the fundamental rights defined in our constitution and we are also signatories to the ICCPR which guarantees freedom of expression,” Mazari told OCCRP on Wednesday.

“The PEMRA ban is actually a violation of our constitution of our international legal commitments which we have undertaken by signing certain human rights conventions and it also shows the total breakdown of our rule of law,” she added.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights group, has condemned the ban.

“We have always opposed measures to curb voices in the past – whether under the previous government or earlier – and we continue to stand by our commitment to freedom of speech, irrespective of the person’s political opinion,” the group said in a statement and demanded the ban to be lifted immediately.

"Stopping a popular politician from airing his views via electronic media means the public cannot engage with him, and in a democracy the public must be able to engage with political leaders and vice versa,” Osama Malik, a human rights lawyer told OCCRP. “It is a historical trend that a politician's speech is banned from being aired or published only when he falls out with the country's all powerful military that has ruled the country, directly or indirectly, almost since independence.”