Nairobi, August 21, 2014 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the detention of three Shabelle Media Network journalists and the closure of their station. Security agents arrested 19 individuals at the network's offices in the capital Mogadishu on August 15, and removed the transmitters of Radio Shabelle and Sky FM, two stations in the Shabelle Media Network, according to news reports and local journalists.
All but three of those arrested were released from the Somali National Security Services in Mogadishu on August 17, news reports said. Mohamed Musa, general manager of the independent Shabelle Media Network, told CPJ that he and Mohamed Bashir, a producer, are currently in hiding, fearing potential arrest. He added that members of the public, who had been visiting the station at the time of the raid, were among those arrested.
Authorities are still holding Shabelle Media Network owner Abdimalik Yusuf, Sky FM director Mohamud Mohamed, and Radio Shabelle presenter Ahmed Abdi Hassan. No formal charges have been made.
Local journalists believe the arrests may be connected to Shabelle Media Network reports that criticized an interview Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud gave to the U.S.-based public broadcaster, PBS, Shabelle reported. During the interview the president alleged that most independent media companies supported the insurgent militants, Al-Shabaab, news reports said.
Abdirahman Omar, a government spokesman, told CPJ the arrests were made after Shabelle Media Network incited the public to violence and urged clans to fight security forces. Shabelle's broadcasts came at a time when authorities were attempting to disarm a militia in the capital, according to wire reports.
"Arresting journalists and closing down a radio station will not solve any of Somalia's problems," said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. "Abdimalik Yusuf, Mohamud Mohamed, and Ahmed Abdi Hassan should be released immediately."
Shabelle Media Network journalists told CPJ that when they attempted to re-launch the station on Tuesday security forces closed it down again and confiscated equipment.
In a separate incident, security forces on Sunday arrested 11 journalists from several news outlets who were attending a press conference held by the leader of the opposition, Ali Mohamed Nuh, in a hotel in Mogadishu. They were detained for three hours and ordered to report to security headquarters every Wednesday, the Somali Independent Media Houses Association, an umbrella group of private media companies, reported. No official charges or explanation for the arrests have yet been made.
In October, authorities forcefully removed Shabelle Media Network from its premises in Mogadishu over a lease dispute that local journalists suspected was an attempt to silence the station. More Somali journalists have been targeted from Shabelle Media Network than any other media company in Somalia, with nine staff members who have been killed in direct relation to their work in the past five years, according to CPJ research.