Nairobi, October 9, 2012--Security agents in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland shuttered private broadcaster Horseed FM on Saturday morning and ordered Internet service providers in the region to block the station's website, according to local journalists.
"The strength of a free and democratic state lies in its diversity of information and its tolerance for critical views," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "We call on Puntland authorities to recognize these principles and immediately reverse their decision to silence Horseed FM and its website."
Officials raided Horseed FM in the port city of Bossasso and forced it off the air without specifying whether the closure was temporary or permanent, local journalists told CPJ. Police Chief Osman Afdalow showed Horseed FM Director Abdikani Hassan an unsigned and unstamped letter ordering the closure that he said came from the police chief of operations in Garowe, the capital, local journalists and news reports said.
No official reason was given for the closure, Mahad Mussa, executive director of the station's parent company Horseed Media, told CPJ. Mohamed Abdirahman, the president's press adviser, told CPJ he was not aware of the closure but would be investigating.
According to local journalists, authorities also ordered local Internet service providers to block Horseed Media's website, the first time such a directive has been issued. The site is currently blocked in Garowe, but is available in other areas of Puntland, Mahad told CPJ.
Local journalists told CPJ they suspected that a series of critical broadcasts Horseed FM had aired in September could have triggered the closure. Horseed FM had claimed that President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole was considering postponing the presidential elections scheduled for January 2013. According to local reports, Farole plans to extend his leadership for an additional year, corresponding with a new draft constitution that allows elected leaders a five-year presidential term.
The president threatened to prosecute the critical media last month after hundreds gathered in the streets to protest the postponement plans, according to news reports. In a meeting last month, the president announced that he would not tolerate "so-called websites and media who are supporting Puntland's enemies," news reports said. This week, Mohamed Aidid, the newly appointed Information Minister, warned the media against interviewing opposition leaders who were critical of the government's policies, Mahad told CPJ.
Authorities in Puntland have harassed Horseed FM in the past. In August 2010, Abdifatah Jama, the station's deputy director, spent two months in prison for airing an interview with the head of an insurgent group. Two months later, unknown assailants threw a grenade at the office, injuring one of the station's technicians, news reports said.
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