New York, March 28, 2011--Security agents with Somalia's Interim Transitional Government arrested the director and news editor of Radio Shabelle on Sunday after the independent station aired a report saying the president was unable to visit areas recently captured by government and AU forces due to security concerns, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The Ministry of Information deemed the March 22 report "factually incorrect and aiding the terrorists."
News Editor Abdi Mohammed Ismail and Director Abdirashid Omar Qase were arrested upon their arrival at security agency headquarters in Mogadishu and were denied access to food, legal representation, and family, Ali Dahir, Shabelle's head of development, told CPJ.
Other local radio stations and the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America aired similar reports that said President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's travels had been restricted by insecurity, local journalists said. Shabelle stood by its reporting.
Abdimalik Yusuf, chairman of Shabelle Media, told CPJ the Interior Ministry ordered the media house today to publicly apologize for the report and to sign a letter stating that they would refrain from negative reporting about the government. Yusuf told CPJ he refused. Phone calls seeking comment from the Interior Ministry went unanswered.
"The government must explain why it is holding our two colleagues incommunicado," CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "In the meantime, it must release them immediately. If it disputes the radio station's reporting it can say so without locking up journalists."
The weak transitional federal government has fought a protracted war with the hard-line insurgency Al-Shabaab and other militant groups, which have controlled vast portions of the country. In 2010, Radio Shabelle clandestinely transferred its operations from Mogadishu's Bakara Market, which was controlled by Al-Shabaab, to the government-controlled part of the city.