Puntland shutters critical newspaper

New York, May 6, 2005—Puntland authorities have ordered the immediate closing of the weekly newspaper Shacab for allegedly inciting violence, according to CPJ sources. The decree, issued after a cabinet meeting on Thursday, cited the government’s constitutional responsibility to uphold the unity of Puntland.

The decree was signed by Vice President Hassan Dahir Afqurac on behalf of President Adde Muse Hirsi, who is traveling abroad, according to the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON). It ordered Shacab “temporarily suspended” for an undetermined period for publishing unspecified articles that it claimed could lead to unrest.

“CPJ is outraged at this shutdown of Shacab and calls on President Adde Muse to immediately lift the ban,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Allowing public debate and a free flow of information on matters of public concern are particularly vital at a time when Somalia is seeking to restore peace and democracy.”

CPJ wrote to Adde Muse this week to protest several recent attacks on the press, including ongoing government harassment of Shacab. In April, Shacab editor Abdi Farah Nur and reporter Abdirashid Qoransey were detained, tried, and acquitted on charges of incitement and insulting the president. Those charges were based on a mid-April article suggesting that citizens with complaints about the Puntland government contact their representatives in parliament, and a reader’s letter criticizing authorities, according to Farah.

Farah told CPJ that official harassment of the newspaper has continued since their release on April 24. Government officials have made several visits, raising questions about the newspaper’s license and demanding payment of “taxes.”

Puntland is an autonomous region in Somalia’s northeast. Somalia has had no functioning central authority since 1991. A peace conference in Nairobi, Kenya, last year elected former Puntland President Abdullahi Yusuf to head a transitional federal government, although that government has not yet returned to Somalia for security reasons. Puntland’s parliament elected Adde Muse to succeed Yusuf, and its authorities have signed on to the peace process.

Read CPJ’s May 3 letter.