Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Somali Media Faces Renewed Challenges: Murder, Raids, Licences

Mohamed Mohamud (Tima’ade) killed by suspected Al-Shabab (Pic:CPJ)


A renewed bout of violence and intimidation on the media in Somalia has drawn international condemnation, although it’s unlikely to deter the country’s lawless authorities and trigger-happy militia that have used their power recently to kill journalists, raid a radio station and censor content on radio by insisting on licences.



That censorship in Somalia goes as far as killing journalists was given a crude reminder when Mohamed Mohamud known as Tima’ade of the UK-based Universal TV, became the seventh journalist to be killed this year when he died at Medina Hospital on October 26 from bullet injuries he received four days earlier. He was shot six times in the neck, head and shoulder.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was not clear who carried out the attack, although the Islamic militia Al-Shabab had claimed responsibility via twitter. Not to be outdone, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdoon, under whom government operatives have been responsible for terrorising the media, also tweeted condemning the killing.

“Condemning these killings is not enough – authorities must do more to apprehend murderers who have struck with total impunity in 2013,” wrote Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa representative.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) described the murdered journalist as a “respected investigative reporter … involved in defending independent media against the provisions of the new media law, which press freedom activists regard as draconian.”

“The government and allied … forces in Mogadishu have largely weakened the Somali hardliners known as Al-Shabaab, but their ability to target the press remains. And while Al-Shabaab is routinely labelled the guilty party, they are not the only ones threatening journalists,” writes Abdiaziz Abdinuur Ibrahim, a guest blogger for CPJ.

On the same day Tima’ade died media in Somalia faced other problems too. On the morning of October 26 the police first sealed the area surrounding Shabelle Media Network in Mogadishu that houses two radio stations – Shabelle Radio and Sky FM, both private owned by the same company. The police then used vehicles to break through, which the radio stations’ listeners could hear until the transmitters were switched off.

The police proceeded to assault employees after confiscating their mobile phones. They were later escorted to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). The equipment and archives of the radio station were dismantled and taken away. The journalists were first told they would be prosecuted but apparently let off after being photographed and fingerprinted when parliamentarians intervened.

According to RSF the raid followed a notice issued five days earlier by Somalia’s Interior Ministry asking Shabelle Media Network to vacate its offices, claiming it belonged to the ministry of information, posts, telecommunications and transport. RSF said it was in retaliation to stations broadcast reports on “declining security in Mogadishu and suspected government corruption.”

The Toronto-based International Freedom of Information Exchange (IFEX) said that on October 24, Shabelle had petitioned the regional court on the eviction and the imminent raid, but the court had rejected the petition. “This stands out as a clear abdication of judiciary responsibilities,” said IFEX.

RSF and 19 other pro-free speech NGOs wrote to Prime Minister Shirdoon before the raid deploring the government agency’s eviction notice to Shabelle. They said in the letter, “As you know, Radio Shabelle seeks to publish free and fair information, and to accurately describe the situation on the ground while avoiding political or religious exploitation of their network.

“Targeted by the radical Islamic militia Al-Shabaab and Hibzz al-Islaam, unfairly accused of serving foreign interests, it has paid a very heavy human tribute over the past years because of its commitment to provide free and independent information to the Somali population, losing ten journalists to violent attacks since 2007.”

RSF said that the threat from Al-Shabab is so real to the journalists from Shabelle initially refused to leave CID headquarters after they were released fearing they would be targeted by the brutal militia. The media watchdog said that many journalists live on Shabelle premises fearing attacks by Al-Shabab.

“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,” said RSF

IFEX quoted the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) saying that the ministry of information was putting pressure on the media not to carry stories about the raid and “Consequently, radio stations censored themselves in covering the crackdown in fear of reprisal.”

Meanwhile, independent radio stations (including Radio Shabelle) face more harassment as Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi, the minister of information, posts, telecommunication and transport, called on all broadcasters to register with the ministry by November 10. “This requirement gives the government a way to put constant pressure on media that might be tempted to be critical,” said RSF.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) meanwhile reported that “The Minister of Information, Abdullahi Ilmoge, announced yesterday that Shabelle Media Network refused to renew its licenses with the Ministry, but the NUSOJ says there is no law that obliges the radio station to pay an excessively expensive license.

“‘The desperation of  the Ministry of Information to control an uncomfortable political news report has exposed their disregard for media freedom and freedom of expression and violated the right of Somalis to receive information,’” IFJ quoted Faruk Osman, secretary general of NUSOJ as saying.

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