The Pakistani authorities have taken off air one of the country’s leading television channels, arrested one of its top executives and charged others with sedition after an Opposition leader made a controversial comment on the military during a broadcast on Tuesday, AFP reported.

The Opposition leader has also been arrested and booked for sedition.

The ARY News television channel was taken off air after the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority on Tuesday issued a show cause notice that alleged that “hateful, seditious and malicious content on your channel raises serious concerns about your mala fide intent”.

The notice referred to comments made on the channel by Shahbaz Gill, an official of the Imran Khan-led Opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The remarks made by Gill were “tantamount to inciting the rank and file of armed forces towards revolt”, the notice stated, according to AFP.

On a telephone call with ARY News, Gill had alleged that the Pakistan Muslim League (N)-led government was trying to provoke the lower and middle tier of the country’s army against Opposition leader Imran Khan, the Dawn reported.

Gill had claimed that the families of the lower-ranked officials of the Pakistani Army support Khan, and the ruling party was trying to create divisions between him and the armed forces.

Actions against ARY News

On Wednesday, President and Chief Executive Officer of ARY Digital Network Salman Iqbal and two news anchors of the channel, Arshad Sharif and Khawar Ghuman, were charged with sedition in a first information report filed in Karachi.

The channel’s Head of News Ammad Yousaf has also been arrested from his house in Karachi, according to ARY News.

On Tuesday, the channel had issued a statement saying that the comments made by Gill were his personal opinion and the only ideology that ARY News abided by was “Pakistan”.

“The news televised was between the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI),” the channel said in its statement. “Shahbaz Gill joined to give PTI’s opinion on the subject, however, no PML-N representative joined due to their boycott of the network.”

The channel also alleged that it was being victimised by the Pakistani government.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has objected to the actions against ARY News, saying that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory should refrain from taking news channels off air arbitrarily.

Pakistan ranked 157th out of 180 countries this year on the press freedom index of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The report described the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory as a body “concerned less with regulating the media sector than with regulating the content it publishes”.

Shahbaz Gill arrested

Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Gill has also been arrested by the Islamabad Police, the country’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Tuesday, the Dawn reported.

Apart from sedition, Gill has been charged with a number of offences, including waging war against the state, abetting a mutiny and provoking a riot. He will be presented before a court later on Wednesday.

At a press conference, Sanaullah alleged that Imran Khan was trying to create divisions in the military and the comments made by Gill on ARY News were part of a conspiracy, of which the television channel is also a part.

Meanwhile, Khan alleged that Gill was not arrested, but abducted. He tweeted a video in which one of Gill’s associates is seen saying that the security forces broke the windows of a car in which the Opposition leader was travelling and then handcuffed.

“Can such shameful acts take place in any democracy?” Khan wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Political workers treated as enemies. And all to make us accept a foreign backed government of crooks.”