A screengrab of Universal TV's talk show Doodwadaag. The show's producer and a director for the station have been arrested. (YouTube)
A screengrab of Universal TV's talk show Doodwadaag. The show's producer and a director for the station have been arrested. (YouTube)

Somali security agents raid Universal TV office, arrest journalists

Nairobi, October 5, 2015–Somali national security forces raided the offices of the privately owned broadcaster Universal TV in Mogadishu on October 2 and arrested Abdullahi Hersi, the station’s East Africa director, and Awil Dahir Salad, a producer, on the same day, according to local journalists and reports.

Abdullahi and Awil were arrested without a court order after being summoned to the offices of the National Intelligence and Security Agency, news reports said. Authorities are holding the journalists at the Godka Jilacow detention center, three Universal TV journalists, who have not been named out of security concerns, told CPJ.

On the same day, security agents raided the Universal TV offices in Mogadishu, switched off the broadcast signal, and ordered the station to be suspended indefinitely, the same journalists said. Abdullahi and Awil have not been charged and no official reason for their arrest and the raid has been made, according to the journalists with whom CPJ spoke.

“We condemn the arrests of Abdullahi Hersi and Awil Dahir Salad and the suspension of Universal TV,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We call on Somali authorities to stop this arbitrary harassment of journalists and respect freedom of the press, as called for in the country’s constitution.”

Universal TV, which has headquarters in London, in the U.K., can still be accessed outside of Somalia, but its coverage has been limited since the Mogadishu office was forced to stop work.

The arrests and the suspension of the station came after a show produced by Awil called Doodwadaag (“Debate”), was broadcast on October 1. During the show, parliament members Abdi Hashi Abdullahi and Mohamed Abdi Yusuf discussed the presence of foreign troops in Somalia and other sensitive issues, the Universal TV journalists who spoke with CPJ said. The journalists said they suspect the show was the reason for the arrests and raid. African Union forces and troops from neighboring countries have collaborated with Somali government forces for several years in an attempt to oust the al-Shabaab militia.

The Information Ministry is currently in talks with the national security agency to have the journalists released, government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman told CPJ.

In a separate incident, authorities in the semi-autonomous southern state of Jubbaland suspended all Universal TV broadcasts in the region in August, by cutting the broadcast signal, alleging the station incited public hostility but without providing specific cases, according to news reports. The order has remained in effect, a Universal TV journalist and two other journalists in the country told CPJ.