Washington, D.C. — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has deplored the closure by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry of its office in Islamabad, Pakistan, following accusations by the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency that its programs are “against the interest of Pakistan” and “in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”
Radio Mashaal serves no intelligence agency or government,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent, using the local name of RFE/RL’s Pashto-language service in Pakistan. “Our reporters are Pakistani citizens who are dedicated to their country and live and raise families in the villages in which they report. We demand that their safety be ensured, and that they be permitted to resume their work without fear or delay.”
Interior Ministry officers arrived at the company’s Islamabad bureau on January 19 to present the closure order and clear and seal the premises. The order came amid deteriorating U.S.-Pakistan relations. Pakistan’s chief of army staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa stated on January 12 that Pakistan feels “betrayed” by U.S. criticism that it is not doing enough to fight terrorism and by Washington’s decision to suspend military aid for Islamabad.
RFE/RL, a private news organization supported by a U.S. congressional grant, has documented increasing threats against Mashaal journalists over the last two years as a result of their reporting. Freedom House has designated the country “not free,” and the Committee to Protect Journalists consistently ranks it among the most dangerous countries for the media.
Radio Mashaal was established in 2010 to provide an alternative to extremist propaganda in the tribal regions along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, reaching audiences that are otherwise subject to the “mullah” radio of Taliban extremists and the recruitment efforts of other militant groups.
Mashaal senior editor Daud Khattak spoke optimistically about the tribal regions recently. “Twenty years ago, people of [the tribal areas] saw weapons as a symbol of grandeur. Today, they want schools and colleges…[and] courts.”
While Mashaal continues to use radio to reach its audience, it also counts more than 1.6 million Facebook fans, and registered 81 million video views on Facebook and 10 million views on YouTube in 2017.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.
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Contact Martins Zvaners
Deputy Director of Media and Public Affairs, Washington, DC