Islamabad: A leading Pakistani news channel was abruptly stopped from airing an interview of jailed former president Asif Ali Zardari, triggering widespread condemnation by journalists who accused the Imran Khan government of suppressing the press freedom.
Zardari, 63, who is in the custody of the anti-corruption body National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for corruption cases, gave the interview to senior journalist Hamid Mir of Geo News while being allowed to attend Parliament session by the National Assembly Secretariat.
On Monday night, Mir was hosting his daily eight o'clock Capital Talk show and the channel started airing Zardari's interview.
However, the interview was abruptly pulled off air within five minutes and the channel started showing other news. Later, the channel announced that the interview was not being shown.
Mir expressed anguish and outrage on Twitter where the opinion was divided on the issue.
"I can only say sorry to my viewers that an interview was started and stopped on Geo New[s] I will share the details soon but it's easy to understand who stopped it? We are not living in a free country," he wrote.
"I am getting calls from all over the world people asking what happened? State of Pakistan giving bad name to this country we don't need enemies," Mir said in another tweet.
However, Mir was also criticised for resorting to interview Zardari who is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau and was allowed to attend the session of Parliament where he gave interview to Mir.
"No offences please but nowhere a top accused of money laundering, frauds and fake accounts is allowed one hour air time to justify his crimes. It only happens in Pakistan where an accused in custody of the NAB on physical remand, appears on tv to give us lecture on democracy and transparency," journalist Rauf Klasra tweeted.
Others supported Mir and termed the stopping of interview mid-air as censorship.
"Stopping Hamid Mir's interview with former President Asif Zardari is shameful manifestation of the fact that we live in quasi martial law with no feeedom of press. The figleaf of democracy is burnt and the real face of #Selected #ShamDemocracy is revealed," journalist Murtza Solangi wrote on Twitter.
Media watchdogs condemned the press censorship.
The Asia Desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists said it was an "outrageous infringement on freedom of the press!"
The government has not responded and it was not clear who ordered to take the interview off air. Normally, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority is empowered to take such actions.
The co-chairman of the Opposition Pakistan Peoples Party and husband of the country's first woman prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is in the NAB custody till July 2 in a multi-million dollar money laundering case along with his sister Faryal Talpur.
Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were arrested last month and both have denied the charges.