Pakistani authorities have sealed off the offices of the international aid group Save the Children, saying the charity was “working against the country”.
Police and government officials arrived at its compound in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, after working hours on Thursday and placed a lock on the gate.
“We have sealed the office of Save the Children on government instructions,” said an official, Kamran Cheema. “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.”
The government did not make any formal announcement but an official from the interior ministry said staff members had been involved in “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.
The police chief, Hakim Khan, said an officer had posted to stand guard outside the charity’s compound but he was “unaware of the reasons behind closing down the Save the Children office”.
Save the Children said move had come without warning: “We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels. 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 Pakistani intelligence report linked the aid group to the Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi, who the CIA allegedly used to carry out a fake vaccination programme as they searched for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
The charity’s expat staff were forced to leave the country 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 links to 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.