Somali government cracks down on media over security coverage

New York, June 7, 2007—Three private broadcasters covering a government security crackdown in the aftermath of Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing of the residence of the Somali prime minister in the capital, Mogadishu, were indefinitely shuttered on Wednesday after authorities accused the stations of fomenting unrest, according to news reports and local journalists.

HornAfrik Radio, the first independent broadcaster in Somalia’s history, the leading independent station Radio Shabelle, and the private station Radio IQK (Holy Quran Radio) remained off the air today, a day after being shut down by an order of the Somali Information Ministry. HornAfrik Co-Director Ali Sharmarke was briefly detained today and the offices of Shabelle Radio were searched for weapons in the ongoing security crackdown in response to a string of deadly suicide bombings and attacks targeting the Somali government and its Ethiopian allies, according to independent local journalists. Guns carried by the stations’ security personnel were also confiscated, they said.

In an official statement, the Information Ministry accused the broadcasters of “creating insecurity, supporting terrorism, violating freedom of expression, misleading the public and becoming anti-government,” according to Agence France-Presse. The stations were broadcasting interviews of Mogadishu residents affected by house-to-house searches for weapons launched by the authorities this week, according to independent local journalists.

In a separate incident on Monday, authorities in Baïdoa, 138 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Mogadishu, shuttered private Radio Warsan for several hours and questioned Director Abdifatah Mohammed Ibrahim Gesey about the station’s funding, according to local journalists and news reports. The move was in connection with a broadcast alleging the illegal seizure of imported luxury cars by Ethiopian troops in the port of Mogadishu.

“We are disturbed by the unsubstantiated accusations against these radio stations for doing their work, and the censorship of critical coverage.” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the Somali transitional government to allow HornAfrik Radio, Radio Shabelle, and Radio IQK back on the air immediately.”

The crackdown has had a chilling impact on the media, resulting in little coverage of the security operations today, local journalists said.

It was the third time this year the transitional government accused broadcasters of fomenting unrest over their coverage of the strife in Mogadishu. The same three stations were already shuttered for a day in January while HornAfrik Radio, Shabelle and private Radio Banadir were warned to censor their coverage in February.

Since ousting an Islamist group from Mogadishu late last year with the backing of Ethiopian troops, the transitional government has been the target of deadly attacks by local militia and Islamist militants. Somalia has had no effective central government since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.