Troops raid prominent Somali broadcaster four times

New York, July 9, 2007—A prominent broadcaster covering public reaction to a large-scale government security crackdown in the commercial district of the capital, Mogadishu, was raided four times over the weekend by Somali government troops, according to news reports and the National Union of Somali Journalists.

In four separate raids since Friday, troops searched the offices of Radio Shabelle, a leading independent station, according to the same sources. Troops searched for weapons, threatened staff at gunpoint, and disrupted live broadcasts, but the searches did not yield any weapons, journalists at the station told CPJ. Last month , authorities confiscated guns carried by the station’s security personnel after conducting a search, according to CPJ research.

The station had aired recent interviews in which merchants and local residents alleged abuses by joint Somali-Ethiopian military forces in and around Mogadishu’s main Bakara market, local journalists told CPJ. Authorities launched a massive security sweep of the market last week in response to a spate of deadly attacks in the area, according to news reports.

Thousands of people have been killed or wounded in grenade attacks and roadside blasts set off by armed groups, and in counter-attacks by security forces since Ethiopian-backed Somali forces ousted an Islamist group from control of Mogadishu late last year. Battles in Mogadishu between March 12 and April 26 alone killed at least 1,670 people, The Associated Press reported.

“The repeated raids on the premises of Radio Shabelle and the death threats against its staff are in direct response to its independent coverage of the volatile situation in Mogadishu,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The Somali transitional government must restrain its security forces and stop harassing the radio station immediately.”

The station was first raided on Friday afternoon when about eight soldiers entered the studios, interrupting a live broadcast from newscaster Abdinur Mohammed Kadie, according to sources at the station who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. Soldiers searched the station room to room, threatening to kill staff, including sports producer Abdi Rashid Abdi Ahmad, if any weapons were found. They also detained a staff security guard for an hour.

Separate groups of soldiers respectively returned on Friday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon, forcing staff out of the studios and conducting more searches, the sources said.

It was the fourth time this year Radio Shabelle had been harassed, according to CPJ research. Last month, the station’s coverage of another government security crackdown led authorities to shutter the station for four days on accusations of fomenting unrest.

Somalia has had no effective central government since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. Rival Somali factions are scheduled to participate in a key reconciliation conference next week, according to news reports.