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Somalia14 November 2007

Government asked to explain closure of three radio stations in two days

Reporters Without Borders today called on Somalia’s transitional government to explain why it has arbitrarily closed three independent radio stations in the past two days, breaking its promises and leaving the capital with virtually no independent news outlets.

“A government’s undertakings are still valid even in war time,” the press freedom organisation said. “The Somali civilian authorities signed a charter guaranteeing press freedom but they have clearly given way to the military forces in the capital, which are openly flouting the rights of its journalists. The public has been left in the dark, the media have been silenced one by one, and their employees have been forced underground or into exile. The consequences of this authoritarian behaviour are disastrous.”

Twenty-four hours after closing independent Radio Shabelle, Somali government forces yesterday raided the studios of two other privately-owned radio stations in Mogadishu, Radio Banadir and Radio Simba, ordering them to cease broadcasting at once. “They said the closure order concerned all the independent radio stations in Mogadishu, Simba Radio news editor Mustafa Haji told Agence France-Presse.

The federal transitional government has not commented publicly on these raids, which have coincided with a major sweep by Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian troops through the capital’s Bakara market neighbourhood in search of weapons and Islamist insurgents.

12.11.2007 - Army unit raids privately-owned radio station, orders its immediate closure

Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the arbitrary closure of Mogadishu’s embattled Radio Shabelle by the security forces today as a major sweep got under way against Islamist insurgents in the nearby Bakara market.

“The contempt displayed by the Somali authorities for independent news media has reached a new level with Radio Shabelle’s closure,” the press freedom organisation said. “Silencing one of the capital’s few news sources is tantamount to blindfolding its population and leaving it to face the violence in its neighbourhoods alone. The need to combat the Islamist insurrection cannot be used to justify every kind of abuse, especially as gagging a radio station just gives more scope for rumours and confusion.”

At around 11:30 a.m. today, three officers entered Radio Shabelle at the head of a military unit, ordered its immediate closure and took station manager Jafar “Kukay” Mohammed and programme director Abdirahman “Al-Adala” Yusuf off to the army high command, where they were told the closure order came from senior government officials but were offered no other explanation. They were then released.

Mohammed was the target of a murder attempt on 24 September in Mogadishu, when an unidentified man pulled out a gun from under his shirt and fired at him twice, but missed. The gunman was not caught.

The station was recently off the air for several weeks after a mixed unit of police and intelligence officers opened fire on the building that houses its studios on 18 September because they believed it had been used for a grenade attack on a patrol. The federal transitional government subsequently described the attack as an “accident.” Many of the station’s employees have since left the city for security reasons.

The head of the Shabelle press group, Bashir Nur Gedi, was gunned down by a group of youths outside his south Mogadishu home a month later, on 19 October.

Today’s major sweep in the capital’s Bakara market neighbourhood was carried out by Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian troops, who went from house to house looking for weapons and Islamist insurgents.

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