ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police on Wednesday arrested a news director at a popular TV station in the southern port city of Karachi on charges of broadcasting anti-army comments by an opposition politician loyal to ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The private ARY television confirmed that Ammad Yousaf, who is also a senior executive at the station, was arrested in an early morning raid at his home.
Security officials told The Associated Press that there would also be raids on several other ARY employees who along with Yousaf were part of the broadcast of an interview Monday with Shahbaz Gill, chief of staff at Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing police actions.
In the broadcast, Gill urged troops and officers, all the way up to brigadier generals, to refuse to obey “illegal orders" from the military.
It was unclear what prompted the comment, which has stunned the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan. The former cricket star turned Islamist politician was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April.
Gill was arrested on Tuesday in Islamabad, on charges of attempting to incite soldiers to revolt against the top military leadership. His remarks on ARY were seen as an attempt to sow division in the country's powerful military.
Khan came to power in 2018, promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan, but his opponents said he was elected with help from the powerful military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.
If convicted, Gill faces a possible death sentence. ARY was taken off air on orders from the country’s media regulator and police opened a probe into whether the station's management was part of a plot to incite troops to mutiny.
Khan denounced Gil's arrest as shameful and called it “an abduction, not an arrest." However, in a televised speech on Wednesday, he appeared to distance himself from the affair and claimed that his successor Sharif's government was conspiring to pit his party against the military.
The government rejected the allegation. Following his ouster, Khan had claimed that the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa was part of an alleged U.S. plot to topple him. Washington, Sharif and the military all denied the allegation.
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb insisted at a press conference Wednesday that Gill had made a “seditious statement" against the military at instructions from Khan. She did not elaborate.
According to the security officials who spoke to the AP police are also investigating Salman Iqbal, the CEO at ARY, over possible incitement against the military. Iqbal has not been detained but some of the station's employees have gone into hiding, fearing arrest.
Meanwhile, a court in Islamabad on Wednesday ruled to allow police to hold Gill in detention for two more days as they investigate the motive for his on-air remarks.