Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the violent police raid on the Shabelle Media Network building in Mogadishu on 26 October and by the eviction and closure of the two radio stations it housed, Radio Shabelle and Sky FM. “We condemn the incredibly violent police assault on Shabelle Media Network and the mistreatment of Radio Shabelle and Sky FM journalists, who were beaten as Radio Shabelle continued to broadcast until the police cut its signal and occupied its studios,” Reporters Without Borders said. “In a country notorious for violence against journalists, the Shabelle Media Network building not only housed two radio stations but also served as a safe residence for many of their journalists, now homeless and exposed to violence by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia that has murdered dozens of journalists in recent years. “This raid and yesterday’s information ministry directive ordering all media organizations to register again constitute a disturbing attempt to bring independent news media under government control. “While the president delivers insincere speeches praising the heroism of Somali journalists, the government is suddenly taking a disturbingly tougher line with the media and sending a threatening message to all those that might be tempted to work independently. It must stop persecuting independent media and accept its duty to defend journalists and freedom of information. “The diplomatic community had been well informed about the threats to Radio Shabelle in the past few days. Regardless of the strategic interests that push foreign governments to maintain good relations with the Somali government, they cannot ignore the obligation to respect democratic principles.” Reporters Without Borders added: “We urge the international community to issue a clear condemnation of these unacceptably draconian actions and to put pressure on the Somali government to end this offensive against independent news media.” Raid on Radio Shabelle The 26 October operation began in the morning when police vehicles sealed off the area around the Shabelle Media Network building, which houses Radio Shabelle, the winner of the 2010 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize, and Sky FM, another independent radio station owned by the same group. Using anti-terrorist vehicles, the police broke through the perimeter and began beating journalists and other personnel with their weapons. Radio Shabelle’s listeners were able to follow the operation live until the police forced their way into the studio and terminated the broadcast. After confiscating the mobile phones of the 36 journalists present, the police arrested them and took them to Criminal Investigation Department headquarters, where they were detained for several hours and threatened. After several parliamentarians interceded, the journalists were released but they initially refused to leave the police building for fear of being targeted by Al-Shabaab as they left. They were finally given refuge in the homes of some parliamentarians and in Mogadishu hotels. According to CID sources, nine Shabelle Media Network producers and reporters and its president could be prosecuted. Before releasing them, the police photographed and fingerprinted them and scanned their irises. During the night of 26 October, the police seized all the archives and equipment from the two radio stations and transported them by truck to an unknown destination. On 25 October, the day before the raid, Reporters Without Borders sent the prime minister an open letter (download the letter :
) signed by several free speech NGOs condemning the illegal eviction order that the interior minister sent to Shabelle Media Network on 20 October, giving it five days to vacate the premises on the grounds that it was a public building that formerly housed the Somali aviation company.
It should be noted that the transitional government’s transport ministry gave Radio Shabelle permission in 2010 to use the building for five years in exchange for repairing it. The current ministry of information, posts, telecommunication and transport is therefore the current landlord.
The violent raid came after the two radio stations broadcast several reports about a decline in security in Mogadishu and about suspected government corruption.
Tougher approach to independent media
Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi, the minister of information, posts, telecommunication and transport, has in recent months been harassing Radio Shabelle and other independent media, summoning reporters and managers for questioning.
The latest attempt at intimidation was the letter he sent to all the Somali media yesterday ordering them to register with his ministry by 10 November. Those already registered were told to resubmit their papers. This requirement gives the government a way to put constant pressure on media that might be tempted to be critical.
Under article 4 of the 2007 media law, which is still in effect, only the National Media Council is authorized to receive accreditation. But the council does not exist, and all authority is currently centralized in the information ministry.
Another journalist killed
The Somali media have meanwhile been hit by the death of another journalist, Mohamed Mohamud Tima'ade of Universal TV, who died in Madina Hospital on 26 October of the six gunshot injuries he received in an attack four days earlier.
A respected investigative reporter, Tima'ade have also been very involved in defending independent media against the provisions of the new media law, which press freedom activists regard as draconian.
He was the seventh Somali journalist to be killed this year. Eighteen journalists were killed last year in Somalia, which is ranked 175th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Photo : le ministre de l'Information, des Postes, des Télécommunications et des Transports Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi : AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab