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Pakistan Orders Closure of US-funded RFE/RL Bureau in Islamabad


FILE - The headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is seen with the United States, RFE/RL and the Czech Republic flags in the foreground, in Prague, Jan. 15, 2010.

The U.S. State Department says it has expressed concerns to the Pakistani government after authorities ordered the closure of the Islamabad bureau of a U.S.-funded news agency.

Interior Ministry officials arrived at the office of Radio Mashaal on Friday after Pakistan's spy agency accused the broadcaster of airing programs "against the interest of Pakistan" and "in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency's agenda." In a memo released Friday by the Interior Ministry announcing the closure, authorities accused the broadcaster of "portraying Pakistan as a hub for terrorism" and "distorting facts [to] incite the target population against the state."

A memo released Friday by the Interior Ministry in Pakistan announces the closure of the Islamabad bureau of a U.S.-funded news agency.
A memo released Friday by the Interior Ministry in Pakistan announces the closure of the Islamabad bureau of a U.S.-funded news agency.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA that U.S. officials are closely monitoring the situation, and the United States remains a supporter of media freedom around the world.

Radio Mashaal chief Amin Mudaqiq spoke to VOA following the closure order. He denied that the station is part of any intelligence agency and defended the integrity of its journalism.

"Well, it has been for a while that the Pakistani intelligence agency was pressuring our reports. They were asking questions, where your funds come from, do you have any foreigners in your ranks and things like this," he said.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said he was "extraordinarily concerned by the closure" and was "urgently seeking more information about the Pakistani authorities' intentions."

Kent said Radio Mashaal, which broadcasts from Prague and has both radio and digital operations, is a "private news organization supported by the U.S. Congress with no connection to the intelligence agencies of any country."

"Radio Mashaal is an essential source of reliable, balanced information for our Pakistani audience," Kent said. "We hope this situation will be resolved without delay."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which also oversees VOA. The BBG is a bipartisan federal agency overseeing all U.S. international broadcasting services. Despite its government funding, the BBG serves by law as a firewall to protect the editorial independence of RFE/RL and VOA.

Nike Ching and VOA Deewa Service contributed to this report.

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