The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has called on authorities in Somalia to avoid turning the war on terrorists into a war on journalists as this can have devastating effects on media freedom in the country. The call followed an incident in which the administration of Hirshabelle State ordered the police to attack a media house, forced its shutdown and briefly detained four journalists.
At about 1 pm local time on 22 December, Hirshabelle police forces attacked the Hiranweyn radio station, an independent radio station operating in Beledweyne, senior officials of the Hirshabelle administration confirmed. The police ordered the shutdown of the radio station and arrested four journalists, namely Mustaf Ali Adow (Producer), Abdirahman Moallim Muse (News Anchor), Kafi Osman Idow (Editor) and Abdimajid Abdirahman Adan (News Anchor).
The raid and shutdown were ordered by the governor of Hiran region Ali Jeyte Osman who was understood to be acting on the orders of Hirshabelle President Ali Abdullahi Hussein Gudlawe. The state President was annoyed after the radio station aired reports on the resurfacing of Al-Shabaab militias in some of the liberated areas in Hiran. According to senior administration officials, the broadcast reportedly infuriated Ali Gudlawe who asserted in his last cabinet meeting that his administration had secured victories against Al-Shabaab in both Middle Shabelle and Hiran regions.
The four arrested journalists were released in the morning of December 23, without any charges and the radio station was allowed to resume broadcasting. Through investigations, NUSOJ has been reliably informed that the raid was intended to intimidate journalists in the Hiran region and force them into self-censorship.
“It is tragic that journalists who are natural allies of peace and stability should be perceived and treated as enemies of the state. Our colleagues at Radio Hiranweyn reported on developments that were in the public interest and did not commit any offence to warrant such treatment,” said NUSOJ Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman.
“The raid, shutdown and arbitrary arrest of journalists are unacceptable and can only mean that the Hirshabelle administration is now targeting media freedom and the public’s right to know,” he added.
“Authorities must avoid turning the war on terrorists into a war on journalists who have a responsibility to report the facts and serve the people’s right to know even if this information makes politicians uncomfortable” asserted Osman.
Having seen similar actions in Galmudug State, NUSOJ warns against Federal Member States (FMSs) not to copy and paste similar oppressive actions as the campaign against Al-Shabaab continues because this will have far-reaching and ruinous effects on media freedom and subsequently to Somalia’s transition to democracy, peace and stability.
“Reporting on a newsworthy issue from any newsmaker is a legitimate media work and the decision to report is exclusively up to the journalist and the editorial team without interference or intimidation from the authorities,” Osman stressed.