Islamist militia closes private radio station

New York, September 29, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed alarm today at the closure by Islamist militiamen of a radio station in southern Somalia and the questioning of three journalists. The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) said two other journalists had gone into hiding.

The militias closed HornAfrik Radio, a prominent private radio station in the port town of Kismayo, 300 miles (500 kilometers) south of the capital Mogadishu, late Thursday, local and international media reported. The station remained off the air Friday. Militiamen of the Union of the Islamic Courts detained Layla Sheik Ismail, Adam Mohammed Salad and Sahro Abdi Ahmed of HornAfrik Radio early Friday for about two hours and questioned them about the station’s critical reporting, the media said.

“We condemn this attempt to censor independent reporting on the dramatic changes in Somalia,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We demand that the authorities allow HornAfrik Radio back on the air immediately, and cease intimidating its journalists.”

Sheik Ibrahim Mohamed, a spokesman for the Islamic courts in Kismayo, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying: “We have arrested them for conveying wrong messages to the people that are against the Islamic courts.”

Talks between militia officials and the radio’s management took place Friday in Mogadishu, according to local journalists and Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, a managing partner of HornAfrik.

NUSOJ said the radio’s editor Naseth Dahir Farah and journalist Hassan Mohammed Nur had gone into hiding from the Islamist authorities, but Adan told CPJ he was not aware of any HornAfrik journalist in hiding.

Armed militiamen, who surrounded the station, accused it of airing a false story about a woman who alleged that she was raped by Islamist forces, and of broadcasting inaccurate reports about the authorities. Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of NUSOJ, told CPJ the station’s journalists were warned not to report critically on the authorities in future. Attempts by CPJ to contact militia officials were unsuccessful.

A HornAfrik source told CPJ that the station had been covering demonstrations this week against the Islamists who took control of Kismayo on September 25.

The Islamic courts, which seized Mogadishu from warlords in June after months of fierce fighting, have vowed to combat any foreign troops on Somali soil and say they took Kismayo to prevent such a force from landing there. They are locked in a standoff with the country’s weak, transitional government, which is backed by the United Nations and neighboring countries including Ethiopia.