(WASHINGTON--January 26, 2018) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) expressed concern on Friday that members of Radio Mashaal are facing pressure by authorities following the closure of the Pashto-language service's Islamabad office on ISI orders last week.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said there were indications that authorities were seeking to compel staffers to make forced statements against the news organization.
On January 19, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the bureau following accusations by ISI that Mashaal's programs are “against the interest of Pakistan” and “in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”
In a statement issued that day, Kent deplored the allegations, saying "Radio Mashaal serves no intelligence agency or government.” He demanded that the safety of Mashaal journalists "be ensured, and that they be permitted to resume their work without fear or delay.”
Radio Mashaal was created in 2010 with a grant by the U.S. Congress, as an alternative news source to extremist media in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province along the border with Afghanistan. While Mashaal continues to use cross-border AM and shortwave radio to reach its Pashto-speaking 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.
Representatives of a broad spectrum of Pakistani political parties and prominent media figures have protested the January 19 decision. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders have condemned the forced closure as an assault on basic rights and freedoms in Pakistan.
The closure comes amid increasing tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to 26 million people in 25 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 1.5 billion times on Facebook and YouTube in 2017. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Pakistani political party leaders in support of Radio Mashaal