Somali government shuts down Al-Jazeera bureau

New York, March 23, 2007— The bureau of satellite television Al-Jazeera in the capital Mogadishu was indefinitely shuttered on Thursday following an order from intelligence officials of Somalia’s Ethiopian-backed transitional government, according to news reports.

The bureau of the Qatar-based broadcaster was “effectively closed” today after the station received a letter from the transitional government’s National Security Agency (NSA) ordering the termination of its operations, correspondent Mohammed Adow told CPJ. The letter did not disclose the reason for the move, Mogadishu bureau head of operations Abshir Mohamed told the Associated Press (AP). But AP quoted Somali Information Minister Madobe Nunow Mohamed as saying that he had not seen the letter. “But I will tell you that Al-Jazeera has conveyed the wrong messages to the world. We will shut down additional radio stations and channels if they distort facts,” he said. Adow denied the allegations.

The move came as former Somali transitional parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan announced in a phone interview from Qatar that he had been invited by Al-Jazeera to participate in a television debate with the chairman of the ousted Islamists group, according to leading independent HornAfrik Radio. Adan was sacked in January after he opposed the Ethiopian military intervention and called for peace talks with Islamists, according to international news reports.

“We condemn the closure of Al-Jazeera’s offices in Mogadishu,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the transitional government to stop censoring coverage of the turmoil in the country and to allow the broadcaster to reopen its bureau immediately.”

Since opening a bureau in Mogadishu in May 2006, Al-Jazeera provided extensive Arabic and English coverage of Somalia, according to Adow. The network vowed to continue reporting the conflict in Somalia from other sources and locations as it did in the past when previous governments closed its offices, according to an official statement.

The station’s broadcast was for the first time taken off the air for a day by the NSA on January 15 after the Ethiopian army helped the interim government oust an Islamist group from Mogadishu late last year.

Thursday’s decision came on the second day of heavy fighting between government forces and insurgents which left 22 people dead, including 9 government soldiers, according to international news reports.