Reporters Without Borders today wrote to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the former president of the autonomous northeastern region of Puntland, asking him to intervene quickly with Puntland’s Vice-President Hassan Dahir Afqurac and get him to rescind the 5 May decree he signed closing the weekly newspaper Shacab until further notice.
"We think it is very worrying that the opposition news media should be subject to arbitrary repressive measures at a time when Somalia is beginning its reconstruction," the press freedom organization said in its letter.
"Both for the country’s stability and for the establishment of real democracy, it is important that the press - regardless of whether or not it is critical of the government - should not be the victim of political issues and rivalry and that journalists should be able to work freely without hindrance or fear of reprisals," the letter continued.
Reporters Without Borders added: "We are of the view that such press freedom violations are intolerable and, if not quickly remedied, bode ill for Somali democracy. For this reason, we call on you as a matter of urgency to intervene with Vice-President Afqurac and get him to reverse these actions."
Issued after a cabinet meeting, the 5 May decree said that: "Articles recently published in Shacab caused a crisis that could have led to violence. The government of Puntland was therefore obliged to take constitutional decisions to safeguard the country’s unity and security, and to temporarily suspend the newspaper."
Shacab, which means "Voice of the People," has been subject to harassment since last month. In the week beginning April 20, the Puntland security forces arrested two of its journalists, Abdirashid Qoransey and editor Abdi Farah Nur. They were detained, tried on charges of "inciting violence and insulting the president" in two articles criticizing the government, and were finally acquitted a few days later. The premises of the newspaper were also damaged.
The pressure has not let up since their acquittal. Government and information ministry representatives began visiting the newspaper on 28 April about licence permits and taxes that Shacab has allegedly not paid, threatening during these visits to close the newspaper.