Attacks on the Press 2002: Somalia

Since the 1991 overthrow of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre by forces loyal to warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed, historic clan rivals have threatened the unity of this country, once known for practicing multiparty democracy while military juntas and civilian despots controlled most other African countries. In the face of such chaos, the media, which had included opposition and independent newspapers under Siad Barre, quickly splintered into several small clan-run newsletters and low-watt radio stations. Independent journalism all but disappeared.

But in late 2000, when Abdikassim Salad Hassan was elected president of a transitional unity government, independent journalism began to re-emerge in Somalia, spearheaded by radio stations such as HornAfrik, which has won praise abroad for its relative fairness and objectivity in covering a messy political situation.

But the tenuous new order still faces difficulties, with various clan leaders increasingly challenging President Hassan’s administration. The disappointing results of another round of negotiations in October–the 14th attempt at peace since 1991–proved that suspicion runs deep among Somalia’s warring clans. Meanwhile, Somali journalists have endured growing hostility from political, religious, and tribal leaders in the country’s four self-proclaimed independent or autonomous regions. In addition, the U.S.-mandated closure of the Al-Barakaat banking and telecommunications company in November 2001 for alleged terrorist ties has reduced the media’s communications capabilities.

On February 12, unidentified gunmen raided Radio Mogadishu-Voice of the Somali Republic, which is operated by the National Transitional Government (TNG), whose authority is limited to the capital, Mogadishu. The attackers, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, took a transmitter and voice mixers, forcing the station off the air. Although the station eventually resumed broadcasting, the attack marked another serious blow to the TNG, whose shaky powers had already eroded in early April, when the Ethiopia-backed Southwestern Regional Government declared independence. That government, which is based in the town of Baidoa, controls a large swath of land and has also received the support of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, a coalition of local leaders opposed to the TNG.

In May, authorities in the northeastern autonomous region of Puntland suspended the broadcasting license of a relay station for the private Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which is based in Puntland’s commercial capital, Bosaso. The suspension also affected the BBC’s Somali-language service, which the SBC relays locally. In August, Puntland authorities banned local correspondents from reporting for the BBC’s Somali service. Regional leaders justified both bans by alleging bias and partisanship among reporters.

In June, civil authorities and clan leaders in the self-declared northwestern republic of Somaliland, who appointed a new president in May, banned the establishment of private radio stations in the region, which has not yet adopted broadcasting regulations.

On September 30, Parliament passed a TNG-sponsored media bill that prohibits the publication of material that undermines Islam, national unity, the political system, or “the common interest of all Somalis” and forbids criticizing government officials or reporting on government secrets. Outraged, journalists in Mogadishu, which, despite years of conflict has a fairly active media, vowed to strike and black out any news about the TNG and Parliament until the legislation was withdrawn. Somali-run Web sites produced outside the country went on strike in solidarity.

On October 2, Mogadishu’s two television stations, six daily newspapers, and six of seven local radio stations suspended operations in protest. That same day, President Hassan declined to sign the bill. Information Minister Abdirahman Ibbi said the president had created a committee of lawyers, journalists, and senior officials to study the journalists’ grievances and had requested that their amendments be incorporated into the bill. At year’s end, the measure was being redrafted.

May 23

Somali Broadcasting Corporation

Authorities in Somalia’s self-declared autonomous region of Puntland suspended the broadcasting license of a substation of the privately funded Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). The suspension ordered the SBC station in Puntland’s commercial capital, Bosaso, closed and also affected the BBC’s Somali-language service, which SBC-Bosaso broadcasts.

Puntland authorities declined to explain the move, but SBC station manager Ali Abdi Aware told foreign reporters that SBC-Bosaso was accused of violating Puntland’s press laws, legislation many local reporters said they did not even know existed.

Other sources in Bosaso charged that the SBC was targeted for what the ruling authorities called its bias against Puntland leader, Col. Abdullahi Yusuf. The same sources also told the U.N.-affiliated Integrated Regional Information Networks that SBC-Bosaso was silenced for “supporting the interim government in Mogadishu and Jama Ali Jama [the former Puntland leader]” and having “a political agenda inimical to the Puntland state.” Former leader Jama Ali Jama and Colonel Yusuf have been locked in a deadly power struggle since June 2001 over the right to rule the breakaway state of Puntland.

June 5

All private radio stations

Civil authorities and clan leaders in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, which the international community does not recognize, banned the establishment of private radio stations. According to the U.N.- affiliated Integrated Regional Information Networks, Somaliland’s Information Ministry justified the move by saying that the region had not yet adopted broadcasting regulations. The ministry also claimed that private radio stations, if allowed to operate in the region, could further destabilize the already shaky breakaway republic. Somaliland officials also demanded that all broadcasting equipment already in the region be surrendered to authorities. The ministry warned that delinquent prospective broadcasters would be prosecuted.

August 16

Ahmad Muhammad Kismayo, BBC
Muhammad Khalif Gir, BBC

Kismayo and Khalif Gir, both local correspondents for BBC’s Somali service, were banned from reporting for the BBC by the Emergency Committee of Somalia’s self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, the U.N.-affiliated Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported.

Officials accused the two reporters of not being “objective in their reporting of events in the region” and urged the BBC “to bring in people who are objective and not engaged in political activity.” Other sources told IRIN that the BBC reporters had been targeted for their perceived bias against Puntland’s new leader, Abdullahi Yusuf, and sympathies for Jama Ali Jama, an ex-leader and Yusuf rival.

August 19

Abdirahman Isma’il Umar, Wartire

Umar, editor of the daily Wartire, was sentenced to four months in prison by a court in Hargeysa, the capital of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, the official Radio Hargeysa reported.

Umar was found guilty of “misreporting” facts and of publishing “fabrications and baseless reports” in an article claiming that Somaliland president Dahir Riyale Kahin had, during a recent visit to Djibouti, signed a secret pact with Djiboutian president Ismael Omar Gelleh. Relations between Somaliland and Djibouti have been tense in the past, with authorities in Somaliland objecting to Djibouti’s role in promoting Somalia’s transitional government.