In Somalia, shelling destroys broadcast stations, injures journalists

New York, April 23, 2007—Two private broadcast stations were destroyed and several journalists were injured last week as Ethiopian troops backing Somalia’s transitional government attacked suspected strongholds of Islamist fighters and militiamen from the Hawiye clan, according to news reports and local journalists.

HornAfrik television and radio—the first independent broadcaster in Somalia’s history— has been off the air since several mortar shells destroyed its Mogadishu studios on Saturday, injuring cameraman Abdi Dhaqane and reporter Yahye Ali Farah, according to media reports and the National Union of Somali Journalists. Dhaqane, who is also a Reuters stringer, was flown to neighboring Kenya for treatment after losing a finger and sustaining a thigh injury, Reuters Chief East Africa Correspondent Andrew Cawthorne told CPJ. Farah was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries and released, Saeed Tahlil, the station’s deputy chairman, told CPJ. HornAfrik, which is respected for its own independent broadcasting, also rebroadcasts programs from the Voice of America, the BBC, CNN, and Sky News.

The neighborhood where HornAfrik is based was heavily shelled, a top station official said. “Even our electricity generator was hit today,” HornAfrik Co-Director Ahmed Abdisalam Adan told CPJ. “We don’t understand the indiscriminant shelling of neighborhoods. It’s barbaric in this day and age, but we will not be silenced easily. We’ll set up the station somewhere else and do everything we can to continue reporting the news to the people.”

Since it began broadcasting in 1999, HornAfrik has suffered harassment and attacks from clan militiamen, Islamists, and the transitional government, according to CPJ research. In February 2005, two unidentified men threw two grenades into the station’s offices, but there was no injury or damage.

Artillery attacks beginning Thursday and continuing through Sunday also destroyed the studios of the Global Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), a Mogadishu-based television and radio network, forcing the station to shut down, according to NUSOJ and local media reports. At least four journalists were injured and two security guards died in the attacks, GBC owner Dalmar Yusuf Ghelle told CPJ. It was not immediately clear whether the GBC attacks were targeted or the product of combat-related crossfire.

“The reprehensible destruction of the studios of HornAfrik and GBC deprives the Somali people and the rest of the world of essential information about the conflict,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the transitional government and its Ethiopian allies to investigate these attacks.”

Founded in April 2006, GBC offered Somali and Italian-language television programs and broadcast on the FM frequency through Voice of Peace Radio, according to Ghelle, also a British citizen. He did not have any immediate plans to reopen the station. “All of our equipment is gone, and there is no insurance in Somalia to recover our losses,” he said.

In February, the transitional government had warned broadcasters to censor their coverage of government military operations and the flight of civilians from the capital.