ICU authorities censor radio station, detain journalist

New York, September 11, 2006—Islamist authorities detained a journalist for two days and shut an independent radio station for a similar period in separate incidents this weekend, according to news reports and the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

In Beledweyne, a western town controlled by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), authorities jailed journalist Osman Adan Areys of the private station Radio Simba on Friday, according to NUSOJ. He was released without charge on Sunday. Local journalists said they believed Areys’ arrest was linked to interviews broadcast on Thursday, in which local residents criticized ICU-imposed restrictions, NUSOJ reported. A CPJ source said the restrictions include a curfew in Beledweyne, which lies near the border with Ethiopia.

ICU-backed authorities in Jowhar, some 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of the capital, Mogadishu, shut Radio Jowhar on Saturday and ordered that its electricity be cut, according to NUSOJ and international news reports. The Associated Press quoted an Islamic official, Sheik Mohamed Mohamoud Abdirahman, as saying that the station’s programs were “un-Islamic” and that it was “useless to air music and love songs for the people.”

The shutdown, though aimed at musical content, also silenced news programming on Radio Jowhar for two days. The station went back on the air today after agreeing to tight restrictions on musical content.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that the Islamic Courts Union authorities are using heavy-handed tactics to repress the media and dictate the content of radio stations,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The ICU must ensure that journalists can work without fear of reprisal.”

The ICU took control of Mogadishu in June and now controls large swaths of southern Somalia. It is locked in a standoff with the country’s weak, transitional government, which is backed by the United Nations and neighboring countries including Ethiopia. NUSOJ said in August that it was alarmed at increasing self-censorship among journalists who feared reprisals from ICU authorities in Mogadishu and elsewhere.