Pakistan has officially made illegal all 11 Christian TV channels airing in the country, leaving the country's 2.8 million Christians with no public media presence for the first time in nearly two decades. Officials have also arrested at least six cable operators for defying the order, according to reports.
According to India Today, the Pakistani Media Regulatory Authority officially banned the religious stations after accusing them of being "illegal" and "not having permission" to broadcast back in October. The outlet notes that most pro-Christian channels in Pakistan are based abroad since because PEMRA does not release licenses for religious broadcasting, and only allows the airing of Christian messages for Christmas and Easter.
Now, the PEMRA is cracking down on cable operators who are still airing the Christian channels, arresting at least six of them in recent weeks, according to UCAnews.
Father Morris Jalal, who founded the now-illegal Catholic TV, condemned the ban and urged the national community to speak out against what he referred to as a "sweeping attack on religious freedom".
"As citizens, Christians have the right to practice their religion, but if they block you, it means not all citizens are equal," he said, according to Express UK. "We must protest this decision, and we hope the West does it as well."
Father Mushtaq Anjum claimed the action, which made "the proclamation of the good news illegal," was a "discriminatory law that affects non-Muslims".
UCAnews contributor Kamran Chaudhry similarly slammed the unjust treatment of Christians in the country, pointing out that even though jihadists continually attack targets in Pakistan, the country still allows unlicensed Islamic TV channels to broadcast.
"Owners of Christian channels knew they were taking a risk by broadcasting foreign religious programs but, everybody thought that, if Islamic channels could do so, then Christians should also have their say," he wrote.
However, he wrote that there is some hope for the Christian channels in Pakistan: "Change in government, change in the PEMRA director, and improvement in their relationship with India could lead to more Indian channels being able to broadcast to their neighbor," Chaudhry said. "In the meantime, church leaders must use social media to reach out to both the Christians and Muslims and they must speak up against this unjust censorship."
Pakistan, the world's second largest Muslim country, is ranked #6 on the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.