Two Puntland journalists freed but harassment continues

New York, July 13, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of two radio journalists who were jailed for nearly two weeks in Bossasso, a city in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland. But CPJ remains deeply concerned by the continued imprisonment of Abdi Farah Nur, editor of the weekly Shacab, and by reported attempts to censor the private radio station, Voice of Peace, in the Puntland city of Garowe.

Sheekh Aduun, director of the Bossasso radio affiliate of the private STN network, and Awale Jama, an editor at the station, were freed yesterday without charge, according to STN director Omar Nur Guutale in Mogadishu. They had been jailed since June 30 in connection with the station’s reporting on the mayoral campaign in Bossasso, according to local sources. Puntland authorities also shuttered STN in Bossasso the same day. Although the ban was technically lifted two days later, STN was able to resume operations in Bosasso only after the two journalists were freed and could actually run the station, Omar Nur told CPJ.

Another Puntland journalist, Abdi Farah Nur, remains jailed in Garowe without charge after he resumed publication of his Shacab newspaper, which authorities had ordered suspended. Farah was arrested on June 19 and later transferred to a high security prison, according to his colleagues. On June 28, CPJ joined five local and international press freedom and human rights groups in writing to Somali leaders to seek his immediate release. The letter was addressed to Adde Muse Hirsi, Puntland’s current president, and Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and former leader of Puntland.

The TFG was formed at a peace conference in Nairobi, Kenya, last year, but is now split, with dissident ministers and parliamentarians in the capital, Mogadishu, and those loyal to Yusuf in Jowhar, 90 kilometers (56 miles) to the north. Yusuf is currently in his stronghold of Galkayo, where he arrived last week.

On Saturday, TFG presidential staff summoned Burhan Ahmad Abdullahi, director of the private, Galkayo-based radio station Voice of Peace, and accused him of broadcasting propaganda for TFG dissidents in Mogadishu, according to the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON). SOJON said the radio station had broadcast interviews with TFG members in Mogadishu, as well as with Yusuf loyalists. Ahmad was ordered to hand over tape recordings of the interviews “for investigation,” which he did. TFG presidential staff members continue to monitor the station and Galkayo’s mayor has threatened to close it down, according to SOJON.

“President Yusuf and the Puntland authorities should immediately release our colleague, Abdi Farah Nur, and end the censorship and harassment of the private media in Puntland,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “As President Yusuf knows, freedom of the press is enshrined in Somalia’s transitional federal charter.”