Broadcaster silenced in Islamist-held city

New York, December 19, 2008–The only radio station in an Islamist-controlled town in southern Somalia was shuttered by militants in a raid last week, according to the station’s director.

About 10 armed Al Shabab militiamen, a hardline Islamist insurgent group controlling the coastal town of Kismayo since August, forced the local station of independent broadcasting network HornAfrik off the air on December 13, director Ahmed Mohamed Aden told CPJ. The militia handed Aden an order signed by Sheikh Hassan Yaqub Ali, the information secretary of the Islamic administration in Kismayo, accusing the station of airing music and “anti-Islamist” information, he said.

“The forced closure of HornAfrik in Kismayo indicates that there are no parts of Somalia where press freedom is respected,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on the information secretary of the Islamic administration to reverse his decision and allow Kismayo’s only radio station, HornAfrik, back on the air. The free-flow of news is in the country’s best interest.”

The raid took place in the evening of December 13, shortly after the station aired a news item reporting civilian casualties in fighting between Al Shabab fighters and local militia in the southwestern town of Dobley, near the Kenyan border, according to Aden. Islamist administration spokesman Ali officially reported a total of seven military casualties on both sides, but no civilian deaths, according to local journalists.

The raid occurred a day after HornAfrik celebrated its 12th anniversary as Somalia’s first ever independent broadcaster, according to news reports. Warlords, Islamists, and the Somali Transitional Federal Government have variously attacked and harassed the station over its coverage, according to CPJ research. HornAfrik’s co-founder Ali Sharmarke was among seven journalists murdered in the line of duty in 2007.

Since capturing Kismayo on August 23, the Al Shabab administration has imposed strict restrictions on press freedom, including pre-broadcast censorship, according to local journalists. The city remains one of the most dangerous for journalists in Somalia. This year alone, two Kismayo-based journalists, Nasteh Dahir Farah and Hassan Kafi Hared, were murdered with total impunity.