Pakistan shuts down Save the Children office: Officials

Pakistani news cameramen take footage of the office of the international charity Save the Children, sealed by order of the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015, as a Pakistani policeman stands guard outside the building. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pakistani news cameramen take footage of the office of the international charity Save the Children, sealed by order of the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015, as a Pakistani policeman stands guard outside the building. -- PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistani authorities on Thursday sealed off the offices of the international aid group Save the Children saying the charity was "working against the country", police and government officials said.

Government officials accompanied by police arrived at the charity's office in the heart of the capital Islamabad after working hours and placed a lock on the compound gate.

"We have sealed the office of Save the Children on government instructions," Kamran Cheema, a senior government official told AFP.

"We don't know the reasons behind this order. We were sent a three-line notification by the interior ministry saying that this office should be sealed and all the expatriate staff be sent back to their countries within 15 days," Cheema said.

The government did not make any formal announcement but an official from the interior ministry said that the agency was involved in the "anti-Pakistan activities".

"Their activities were being monitored since a long time. They were doing something which was against Pakistan's interest," said the official without giving his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Local police chief Hakim Khan told AFP that a police officer was standing guard outside the charity's compound on the orders of the government but that he was "unaware of the reasons behind closing down the Save the Children office".

A spokesman for Save the Children said its Islamabad office had been sealed off without warning.

"We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels," the spokesperson said, adding that there are no expatriate staff working in the country.

"All our work is designed and delivered in close collaboration with the government ministries across the country, and aims to strengthen public service delivery systems in health, nutrition, education and child welfare."

In 2012, a Pakistan intelligence report has linked the aid group to Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi who the CIA allegedly used to carry out a fake vaccination programme as they searched for Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The charity's expat staff were forced to leave Pakistan after the accusations emerged. It now has 1,200 Pakistani staff working on projects in health, education and food, the charity said.

Save the Children has always denied it had any links with Afridi or the CIA.

Pakistan has since hardened its policies towards international aid groups, accusing them of being covers for spying operations and has repeatedly warned them to restrict their activities, vowing stern action for any "suspicious" activity.