New York, November 2, 2011--Authorities in northern Somalia banned two private broadcasters from operating in Puntland Tuesday, blaming independent media coverage for undermining national security as they grapple with potentially destabilizing violence in the region, according to local journalists and news reports.
The Information Ministry in semi-autonomous Puntland banned the local operations of Universal TV and Somali Channel TV, accusing the stations of "working with the peace haters who are always against the Puntland security," according to CPJ's translation of the directive.
A spate of assassinations and bombings in Puntland since 2006 are threatening to drag the breakaway region into the violent chaos engulfing southern Somalia since 1991, according to news reports.
"We condemn the ban on Universal TV and Somali Channel TV and call on Puntland authorities to reverse this arbitrary censorship order," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Accusations of carrying propaganda and undermining national security are clearly a pretext for silencing journalists who may deliver unwelcome news."
The ban came a day after President Abdirahman Mohamed Faroole lambasted the media in an address at the official opening of Puntland's parliament, local journalists told CPJ. Faroole came to office in 2009 promising to combat insecurity, according to news reports, but ongoing political assassinations and deadly explosions have led to public protests and the resignations of several officials. Authorities have blamed the violence on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated, hardline Islamist group Al-Shabaab, according to news reports.
In remarks to Parliament, Faroole singled out Somali Channel TV for allegedly disseminating Al-Shabaab propaganda, and accused Universal TV of endangering national security. Faroole threatened journalists with arrest and confiscation of equipment if they endanger Puntland's security, local journalists said. Immediately after the presidential statement, security agents forced Somali Channel reporters out of the Parliament session, according to local reports.
Presidential Press Adviser Mohamed Abdirahman told CPJ he was unaware of details of the suspensions since he had just returned from an official trip abroad. CPJ was unable to reach the Information Ministry despite repeated attempts.
Universal TV reporter Nuh Muse Birjeeb told CPJ he could not understand the accusations made against the broadcaster. "If we have made a mistake then let us correct it," Birjeeb said. "So far though, they have not brought any evidence." Somali Channel TV Director Ahmed Mohamed Jama was also surprised by the directive and claims the broadcaster is impartial, according to local reports. An official in the Information Ministry told the journalists' union that the ministry was only following a presidential directive, the union reported.
Conditions for Puntland journalists have become extremely dangerous, according to CPJ research. Unknown assailants shot at two journalists on separate occasions in September, severely wounding Radio Galkayo reporter Horriyo Abdulkadir and, in another incident, Radio Voice of Peace reporter Hassan Mohamed. Two private radio stations, Radio Daljir and Radio Galkayo, have been targeted in bomb attacks.