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Somalia11 January 2007

With a radio station closed down and a journalist detained, government seat becomes hostile area for press

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the transitional government’s closure of Radio Warsan, a privately-owned radio station based in the southwestern city of Baidoa, and called on the authorities to explain why they are continuing to hold journalist Hassan Mohammed Abikar of Voice of the Holy Quran, another privately-owned radio station.

“Baidoa, the seat of the transitional federal government, is turning into a city where only the voice of the authorities is tolerated and where Somali journalists are subjected to arbitrary treatment,” the press freedom organisation said. “This censorship is hard to understand, and casts serious doubt on the government’s desire to respect the rules of democracy.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Radio Warsan must be allowed to resume broadcasting and the rights of the Voice of the Holy Quran journalist must be respected at once if the government wants to avoid being seen as an authoritarian and intolerant regime that does not keep its promises.”

Radio Warsan was instructed to stop broadcasting on 7 January by the police. Information minister Ali Ahmed Jama Jingali said the order had been issued by the national security commission (formed by a small number of government ministers) because of the “negative” content of its programmes. The station has not broadcast since then.

The only privately-owned broadcaster based in Baidoa, Radio Warsan is known for covering Somali politics in a independent and critical fashion, unlike other privately-owned radio stations which often side with one or other of the warring parties.

Station manager Abdifatah Mohammed Ibrahim told Reporters Without Borders this was the fifth time the station had been forced to close, and said it had been singled out “because of its independence.” Previously called Democratic Media Concern (DMC), it was last closed by the police on 14 December after broadcasting programmes about the government’s desire to evict residents from areas adjoining the presidential palace for security reasons.

The transitional government inaugurated a governmental radio station in Baidoa on 24 December. Called Radio Bay, the Voice of the Somali Republic, it is now the only news media operating in the city that is the government’s seat.

Abikar, the Voice of the Holy Quran’s correspondent for the Lower Shabelle region, was arrested in Baidoa by government forces on 1 January. The authorities have still not said where or why he is being held.

Read what bloggers say about the situation in Somalia on rsfblog.

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