Government forces raid, ransack prominent independent media outlets
MOGADISHU, Somalia, October 27, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemns the crackdown and ransacking of Shabelle Media Network, the leading independent media network in Somalia, by the security forces of the Federal Government of Somalia as a serious threat to media freedom and freedom of expression in Somalia.
On the morning of Saturday, 26 October, security personnel cordoned off the building hosting Radio Shabelle and SkyFM, both part of Shabelle Media Network. The police restricted the entry and exit of the workers, and then broke the gate of the building with terrorist response police vehicle and forcefully entered the building. Security forces started beating journalists with butts of their guns. Radio Shabelle was on air during the attack and the public could hear the beatings and noise inside the studio until the police violently disabled computer servers and radio transmission equipment before shutting down the generators, effectively halting broadcasting indefinitely.
The police demanded editors and management of Radio Shabelle and SkyFM to handover the keys of the archives of the radio stations and to point out where digital recordings of the news and programs, such as CDs and flash disk are. The police reportedly searched documents in the offices and bedrooms of the journalists. Subsequently, journalists and the management of the two radio stations were all taken into a corner and their mobile phones switched off and collected by the police. They were subsequently forced to board a police van to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). 36 journalists, including 7 female reporters, were taken to CID and detained from 12:30 to 19hours. The journalists were reportedly informed that they are under arrest and will soon be distributed to different police stations - every five of them will be taken to one police station.
Due to the height of the media campaign and the ugly turn of the crackdown, the journalists were in the evening told to leave the CID but they refused as they are target for Al-shabaab who could be waiting them outside and they preferred staying at CID until the next day but the police forced them out and some members of the federal Parliament who were present at the CID to observe what was going on took the journalists to hotels in Mogadishu and houses of MPs for safety. CID is currently working on criminal charges against 8 journalists and the Chairman of Shabelle Media Network after finalizing listening recordings of the two radio stations, according to sources within the CID.
Saturday midnight, the police reportedly loaded all the equipment of the two radio stations, the archives of the two FM stations and the office equipment of Shabelle Media Network and took them to unknown place. Currently the building occupied by the police. The building was not only a workplace for journalists but also a safe house since if they go out, they are targeted by Al-shabaab.
The attack follows after the Ministry of Interior and National Security ordered Shabelle Media Network to vacate the building which is owned by defunct Somali Airlines within 5 days from 20th October. Shabelle Media Network has had agreement by the then Ministry of Air, Land and Maritime Transport of the former Transitional Federal Government that it had to stay in the building until 2015 due to refurbishment costs of the building incurred by the media network. The Ministry of Information, Posts, Telecommunication and Transportation which inherited this agreement requested the Interior Ministry to force out the radio stations from the building, according to the Management of Shabelle Media Network.
The government did not obtain court decision which nullifies the agreement of Shabelle Media Network to stay the building until 2015. The police also failed to obtain court order to enter, search and ransack the media houses. On Thursday, 24 October, the Banadir (Mogadishu) Regional Court reportedly refused a petition from Shabelle journalists and management to stop immanent raid and endangerment of their life, citing the government will not obey their decisions. This stands out clear abdication of judiciary responsibilities.
The real motive behind the eviction and the subsequent raid is the independent and critical reporting by the two radio stations about security situation in Mogadishu, ongoing talks about interim Jubba administration, the new agreement by the government with the Turkish company managing Mogadishu Airport, and alleged corruption within the government offices. The Ministry of Information, Posts, Telecommunication and Transport is particularly involved in due to extensive coverage by Radio Shabelle of the report by UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea & Somalia which cited the Minister of Information, Posts, Telecommunications and Transportation Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi. Radio Shabelle and its journalists have been at the forefront in the campaign against draconian draft media law, and on 16 July, Minister Ilmooge Hersi threatened to take action against those opposing media law and castigated the independent media as "media warlords".
"The raiding of Radio Shabelle and SkyFM and the arbitrary switch-off of two radio stations clearly indicates an orchestrated invasion on free media and drastically injures the rights to freedom of expression, media and access to information. The effect of these wanton actions does not only affect the radio stations, but also ordinary citizens who use these radio stations as a platform to exercise their constitutionally granted right to communicate, as well as the right to receive, impart and disseminate information," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
"Instead of the government facilitating the enjoyment of this freedom, it has facilitated an unjustifiable interference by security forces who have boldly attacked the media in a bid to curtail media freedom and silence independent voices in the media community" added Osman. "These constant attacks on journalists and media houses are in direct contravention of the provisional Constitution of Somalia, and regional and international conventions that Somalia has ratified."
Officials of the Federal Government avoided to comment on the crackdown. The Deputy Minister of Information, Abdishakur Ali Mire, Spokesperson of the Office of the President, Abdirahman Omar Osman and Director General of the Ministry of Information, Posts, Telecommunication and Transport Abdirisak Yusuf Bahlawi declined to talk about the raid. They were however pressurizing media houses not to cover the police raid and some of the radio stations censored themselves in covering the crackdown in fear of reprisal.
NUSOJ stands in full support of the affected media houses and shall offer all the support it can to the defense of their rights and freedoms. "We call upon all friends of the media to join us in this endeavor," said Osman.
There is a growing concern in Somalia about the narrowing space for journalists and media practitioners to express themselves. The Ministry of Information, Posts, Telecommunications and Transport issued summons to Radio Shabelle editors in July this year. Officials at the Ministry have been busy mounting campaign against all independent and critical voices in the media to weaken their credibility and legitimacy.
"These acts which have been going on since the new federal government was formed are intended to undermine independent journalist movement in the country and to keep Somalis ignorant about sensitive governance issues, which are of greater public importance," declared Osman.