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Pakistan Interior Ministry shuts down Pashto-language channel Radio Mashaal

A radio station employee is seen on International Radio Day in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan, 13 February 2016
A radio station employee is seen on International Radio Day in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan, 13 February 2016

Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The government of Pakistan on January 19, 2018 shut down the Pakistan operations of the Pushto-language radio channel of US Government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The notification issued by the Ministry of Interior said Radio Mashaal was 'found against the interests of Pakistan and in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency's agenda'.

The notification issued in the report of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) said that Radio Mashaal was involved in 'portraying Pakistan as a hub of terrorism and a safe haven for different militant groups'; 'propagating Pakistan as a failed state in terms of providing security to its people, especially minorities and Pushtoons'; 'showing the Pushtoon population of KP/ FATA and Balochistan disenchanted with the state'; and 'distorting facts to incite the target population against the state and its institutions'.

Launched in 2010, Radio free Europe/Radio Liberty's Radio Mashaal is broadcast on shortwave from Prague, Czech Republic and its Pakistan offices headquartered in Islamabad cover the tribal areas, Balochistan and Afghanistan.

A press release issued by RFE/RL condemned the government action and demanded RFE/RL be permitted to resume their work. RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said "Radio Mashaal serves no intelligence agency or government, our reporters are Pakistani citizens who are dedicated to their country and live and raise families in the villages in which they report."

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the regulator of radio and television, said the operation of the radio channel does not fall under its jurisdiction as it was being operated from the Czech Republic using shortwave radio frequencies. "We have taken up the issue with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to devise a strategy to regulate all shortwave radio stations being operated from outside Pakistan," said Maham Ali Khan, a spokesperson for PEMRA. "At the moment, we are providing technical assistance to the Interior Ministry to shut down the transmission of Radio Mashaal," she added.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) criticised the government's decision to ban the transmission of Radio Mashaal. In an interview with Arab News, PFUJ President Afzal Butt said, "It is unfortunate the government has sealed the office of the radio without providing any evidence for its allegations." Butt urged the Interior Ministry to take the matter to the court instead of abruptly shutting down the radio station's operations.

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