CPJ condemns rising attacks on the press and its leaders

New York, December 18, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by an upsurge in arrests and the harassment of journalists by rival groups battling for control of Somalia. Both the Islamists who hold Mogadishu and the U.N.-backed transitional government based in Baidoa, northwest of the capital, have cracked down on the press this month.

On December 17, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Mogadishu detained leaders of the respected National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) at the airport. They prevented NUSOJ Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman from boarding a plane for Dubai, and also detained the union’s Organizing Secretary Ali Moalim Isak who had accompanied Osman to the airport, local journalists said. Both men were held without charge for nearly 12 hours in a police station where officials pressed Osman to reveal the passwords to his e-mail accounts, and questioned him about the purpose of his trip, he later told CPJ. Officials seized the journalists’ passports, cell phones, a laptop, and other documents. They have not been able to leave the country.

“We are concerned that NUSOJ leaders may have been detained to prevent them from reporting on press freedom abuses,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on ICU authorities to return their documents and equipment immediately and allow them to work freely.”

In Somalia, a country where conflict is escalating and communications are extremely limited, NUSOJ is an important source of press freedom violations.

NUSOJ reported that on December 17, authorities in the Islamist-controlled Middle Shabelle region north of Mogadishu, arrested Mohamed Amin Adan Abdulle, a correspondent of the private, Mogadishu-based Global Broadcasting Corporation, after he refused to withdraw a story alleging corruption in the distribution of funds for local flood victims.

As political and military tension has grown, journalists have also come under increasing attack from the weak, transitional government in Baidoa, 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Mogadishu. On December 14, the government shuttered Radio Warsan, the only remaining private radio station in Baidoa, in a move linked to the station’s critical reporting, according to NUSOJ and local media reports. Authorities did not provide any explanation for the action. However, Radio Warsan director Abdifatah Mohammed Ibrahim Gesey told NUSOJ and other local sources that the station had been covering the government’s forced removal of residents around the presidential palace in a bid to tighten security following two car bombs in the city since September. On December 4, it banned vehicles travelling from Mogadishu from entering Baidoa, according to Agence France-Presse.

In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, which is an ally of the transitional government, Abdi Aziz Guled, a correspondent for Radio Simba in Mogadishu and for Voice of Peace Radio in the Puntland city of Galkayo, was detained for more than two weeks without charge, according to local journalists. Authorities had accused him of reporting false information over a story alleging the planning of a pro-Islamist demonstration in the Puntland capital of Bossasso, according to NUSOJ. The report was inaccurate, according to the same source. Guled was released December 17.