In Somalia, broadcasters return to the air a day after being shut down

New York, January 16, 2007—Four private broadcasters returned to the air today, a day after being shut down by Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional government, according to local journalists and the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

HornAfrik radio and television, Radio Shabelle, Radio IQK (Holy Quran Radio), and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television resumed broadcasting after a closed-door meeting with officials of the transitional government’s newly formed National Security Agency (NSA), local journalists told CPJ. Authorities did not issue a statement, but the stations said they agreed to cooperate with the government for the national interest, according to the same sources. It was not immediately clear what conditions the government may have attached to the resumption of broadcasting.

The influential HornAfrik and Radio Shabelle are the two biggest media houses in the capital, Mogadishu. HornAfrik, established in 1999, was the country’s first independent broadcaster.

On Monday, the stations were shuttered by decree from the head of the NSA, according to news reports. No explanation was given, but station officials were summoned to NSA offices today “to receive instructions related to their work,” according to Agence France-Presse. After the shutdown, news reports quoted officials as saying that the stations were fomenting unrest against the transitional government. Three other private stations in Mogadishu—Radio Banadir, Radio Simba, and Global Broadcasting Corporation—were not affected by the decree, local journalists told CPJ.

“We are relieved that the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has allowed HornAfrik, Radio Shabelle, Radio IQK and Al-Jazeera to resume broadcasting. But we are alarmed that it resorted to intimidation, which appears aimed at chilling independent reporting and promoting self-censorship,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the transitional government to honor its commitment to Somalia’s transitional federal charter, which enshrines freedom of the press.”

The closures took place two days into a three-month state of emergency declared by the transitional government in an attempt to disarm the militias that have kept the country in chaos for 16 years. In an interview with Canada’s National Post, Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama said the four censored stations were “a hindrance to the disarmament process” because they aired reports that were allegedly partial to clans and sympathetic to Islamists.

Against a background of military conflict between the transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), Somali journalists have faced pervasive attacks, imprisonments, and censorship in the past year. The ICU seized the capital and a large swath of the south in June only to be routed in late December when Ethiopia launched an all-out offensive in support of the transitional government.