RFE/RL has voiced concern that members of its Radio Mashaal unit are facing pressure from authorities in Pakistan after the closure of the Pashto-language service’s Islamabad office last week.
In a statement on January 26, 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 after Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency accused Mashaal of airing programs that are “against the interest of Pakistan” and “in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”
Kent deplored the decision, which comes amid increasing tensions between Islamabad and Washington, saying that "Radio Mashaal serves no intelligence agency or government."
On January 25, Islamabad appeared to offer another reason for the closure of Mashaal.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told a weekly briefing in Islamabad that the U.S.-funded station had been closed for lacking "the requisite mandatory license from the concerned authorities.”
Radio Mashaal’s production company in Pakistan is officially registered as a company with the principal activity of radio broadcasting. Mashaal does not have radio transmitters inside the country.
The decision to close Mashaal has been called a "direct threat to press freedom" in Pakistan, by the media watchdog group the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"The order to close Radio Mashaal is a draconian move by Pakistani authorities and a direct threat to press freedom," said Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia program coordinator.
"Radio Mashaal is an important source of information and should be allowed to continue operation without delay," Butler said on January 20.
The closure order was issued after Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said 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.
U.S. President Donald Trump on January 1 accused Pakistan of "lies and deceit" and said the United States would suspend up to $1.9 billion a year in military aid until Islamabad moves decisively against Afghan Taliban fighters and Haqqani network militants who he said have found safe haven within Pakistan's borders.
Radio Mashaal, which broadcasts from Prague, has both radio and digital operations.