New draconian restrictions on the coverage of fighting between government forces and rebels by the few media still operating in the capital are “unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said today. The restrictions were ordered on 26 November by Mogadishu mayor Mohamed Omar Habeb, a former warlord and governor of the central city of Jowhar who is also known by the nom de guerre of “Mohamed Dhere.”
“The rules decreed by Mohamed Dhere are ridiculous, especially as they have no legal basis,” the press freedom organisation said. “A city in which the most popular news media have been closed arbitrarily, dozens of journalists flee each week and those that stay risk being arrested or murdered needs a mayor who offers safeguards and who is open to dialogue. Instead it has one who imposes the rule of martial law.”
The new rules include a ban on reporting “military operations by the federal transitional government and Ethiopian troops” without the “written agreement” of the authorities and a ban on interviewing “government opponents inside the country or abroad.” Anyone violating the rules will be treated as a “criminal,” the mayor’s decree says.
16.11.2007 - President Abdullahi Yusuf asked to clarify government’s position on press freedom
Mogadishu mayor Mohamed Omar Habeb’s demands that news media and journalists must register with the authorities in order to be able work in the capital are a violation of the Transitional Federal Government’s undertakings, Reporters Without Borders said today in a letter to President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
Mayor Habeb said on 14 November that “all the media” including “representatives of foreign media” would have to register with the authorities “within 30 days in order to continue working in Mogadishu, otherwise they will not be authorised.”
“Aside from the fact that this decision has no legal basis and is not supported by any Somali law, it is not the mayor’s job to decide who is allowed to report the news and who is not,” the letter said. “It is one of the most elementary principles of journalism that the only persons who may assign work to journalists are their editors.”
The staff of four privately-owned radio stations (Radio Quran Karim, Radio Mogadishu, Voice of Democracy and Radio Somaliweyn), and one television station (London-based Universal TV), and five local reporters who are stringers for international news media (AFP, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC and VOA) are the only remaining journalists able to work in Mogadishu.
“The issuing of press accreditation, practised by many countries, can be understood when fighting is going on,” the letter said. “But the selective registration of media at a time when three privately-owned radio stations have just been arbitrarily closed by force and journalists are frequently jailed in an utterly illegal manner constitutes an additional attempt to censor and control the news, one that is incompatible with the undertakings given by the government you lead.”
As an example, the letter said that two days after the unexplained closures of Radio Shabelle, Radio Banadir and Radio Simba, freelance photographer Salah Mohammed Adde was arrested yesterday by police of the criminal investigation department at Mogadishu’s Banadir football stadium while taking photos of demonstrators who support the anti-insurgency operation which government troops, supported by the Ethiopian army, have launched in the city centre. He is still held.
“These incidents violate several articles of the February 2004 Transitional Federal Charter, which currently fulfils the role of a constitution,” the letter continued. “Article 3, point 1 says your government ‘shall be founded on the supremacy of the law and shall be governed in accordance with this charter’. Article 4, subsection c says interpretation of the charter should give priority to ‘human dignity, integrity, rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law’. And article 20, point 1 requires the government to ‘guarantee the freedom of press and independent media in accordance with law’.”
These three essential provisions in the charter show that Mogadishu’s mayor is clearly in the wrong, Reporters Without Borders said. Furthermore, as the former governor of Jowhar under the nom de guerre of ‘Mohamed Dhere’, the mayor already demonstrated his contempt for press freedom by regularly having journalists arrested at his pleasure.
The letter concludes by urging President Yusuf to give clear undertakings to defend Somalia’s independent press, which has paid a heaving price in this year’s fighting and is caught in the crossfire between the rebels and your army.
“You must choose one of two courses,” the letter said. “Either your government follows the Transitional Federal Charter, which means the mayor does not carry out his threats, Radio Shabelle, Radio Banadir and Radio Simba are allowed to resume operating and Salah Mohammed Adde is released. Or your government must turn its back on the rules under which it was established, in which case you, as its president, must say so publicly.”