• Channel condemns Gill’s statement
• KUJ, HRCP, AEMEND denounce move; PFUJ, PUJ move court against transmission suspension, arrests
• Protest outside Pemra office in Islamabad today

KARACHI/LAHORE/ISLAM­ABAD: Police on Wednesday registered a sedition case against the CEO of ARY News and others associated with it, and arrested the channel’s head of news and current affairs, Ammad Yousaf.

The FIR was registered at the Memon Goth police station on behalf of the state by a police officer over a controversial interview by PTI leader Dr Shahbaz Gill broadcast on the channel on Aug 8.

Meanwhile, journalist and rights bodies condemned the ban on the channel and Mr Yousaf’s arrest. The country’s media bodies also moved court against the arrest and suspension of the channel’s transmission.

A senior police officer who wished not to be named said Mr Yousaf, who is also the senior executive vice president of ARY News, was likely to be presented before a Karachi court on Thursday (today). ARY Controller News Siraj Ahmed told Dawn two police mobiles and a Vigo double cabin vehicle reached Mr Yousaf’s residence in DHA at around 2:30am on Wednesday, entered by scaling the walls and detained him.

Meanwhile, the channel on its website claimed Mr Yousaf was picked up “without a warrant from his residence”. “Police officers along with plain-clothed persons forcibly entered the house of Ammad Yousaf. The raiding team diverted the CCTV cameras of Yousaf’s house, and jumped into the house from the top of the main entrance. It also took away the… DVR of the CCTV cameras installed in the house,” it added.

The first information report (FIR) against ARY Digital Network President and CEO Salman Iqbal, Yousaf, anchorpersons Arshad Sharif and Khawar Ghumman and a producer was registered under sections 120, 124-A, 131, 153, 153-A, 505, 506, 121, 109 and 34 of the PPC.

The complainant, Memon Goth SHO Ateequr Rehman, said on Aug 8, he saw a viral clip on social media featuring an ARY News show wherein PTI’s Dr Gill had made “hateful remarks” against the army. Anchor Sharif and the channel’s Islamabad Bureau Chief Ghumman participated in the show as analysts.

He claimed that by expressing such views, PTI and ARY News were creating a “divide” between sections of armed forces, sowing hatred and rebellion in the army and also threatening government officers against following the government’s directives.

“This is a premeditated and an organised conspiracy” perpetrated “in collusion with the channel’s produ­c­­er, director and CEO, the FIR added.

On the other hand, soon after the authorities came down hard on ARY News, it softened its aggressive stan­­ce regarding an alleged campaign against it, and disowned Gill’s statement. In a video uploaded to the channel’s twitter page on Tuesday, anchorperson Kashif Abbasi read out the channel and its CEO’s version, saying they condemned the PTI leader’s statement and that ARY News had never been and nor will it ever be a part of any conspiracy aga­inst the army, judiciary or any institution. “…when we take anyone on line we cannot read his mind to know what will be said on TV,” Mr Abbasi quoted the statement as saying.

While anchorperson Arshad Sharif has left the country, producer Adeel Raja and Mr Ghumman have gone into hiding.

After the said programme was aired on Aug 8, there were reports of the channel going off air in many parts of the country that evening. A couple of hours later, Pemra had issued a show-cause notice to ARY News for airing what it called was “false, hateful and seditious” content based on “absolute disinformation with a clear and present threat to national security by instigating rebellion within the armed forces”.

The notice said Gill made “highly hateful and seditious” remarks tantamount to “incite armed forces towards revolt” during the said programme. It further said his statements violated Article 19 of the Constitution as well as Pemra laws, hence it was constrained to ban the channel’s transmission. It had sought a response from Mr Iqbal within three days, and also directed him to appear in person on Wednesday at Pemra’s Islamabad office along with a written reply.

Media, rights bodies condemn

Meanwhile, the Karachi Union of Journalists condemned Yousaf’s arrest. KUJ president Shahid Iqbal and general secretary Fahim Siddiqi urged the CJP to take suo motu notice of the suspension of ARY News service and Yousaf’s arrest.

The HRCP also opposed the “disruptions” to ARY News in a tweet. “Pemra must refrain from arbitrarily taking channels off the air and protect all media houses’ right to freedom of expression, responsibly exercised,” it posted on twitter.

The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) in a statement termed the actions by the authorities a serious threat to freedom of expression.

The PFUJ’s Afzal Butt announced a joint protest of various journalist unions in front of Pemra headquarters. The Punjab Union of Journalists challenged the nationwide suspension of ARY News transmission and arrest of Yousaf.

Rana Azeem, secretary of another PFUJ faction, filed a petition before the Lahore High Court, stating the Pemra chairman had no right to shut down the transmission of any news channel before serving a notice.

Another petition was filed before the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry against Yousaf’s arrest by Advocate Azhar Siddique, PUJ President Shahzad Butt, an ARY News reporter and members of the civil society.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2022

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