Last month Free African Media reported on the arrest of Somali journalists by various Islamist militia factions, but the Somali transitional federal government isn't too keen on media freedom either, summarily ordering Radio Kulmiye to shut down early in March. Although the independent radio station was allowed back on air a mere 48 hours later, its short closure was a dispiriting reminder of the many pressures media in Somalia face. BY AY MOHAMED.
On Wednesday 2 March, the national security agency of Somalia's transitional federal government issued a decree ordering Radio Kulmiye to go off-air temporarily, said the director of the independent radio station. The shutting down of Radio Kulmiye was indeed just temporary and the very next Friday, the TFG allowed the station to resume broadcasting, after negotiations between the broadcaster's administration and government officials.
The main reason for Radio Kulmiye’s closure was not immediately obvious, but reports indicate that the radio had broadcast interviews with four former Islamist militiamen, who had surrendered to the Somali government. They accused the Somali government of not implementing the pledges it had undertaken, although they did not specify what these pledges were exactly. The former militiamen also accused the NSA of not transmitting their complaints to high officials of the Somali TFG.
Mohamed Omar Dalha, who is an MP in the Somali TFG, spoke about the closure of Kumiye Radio, saying the NSA's decision to shut it down was not a suitable step. Dalha said: “The government... must listen to their defects, but the government is only ready to listen (to) their praises.” He labelled the violation against Radio Kulmiye, one of the free FM stations in Mogadishu, as “very sorrowful”. Dalha added: “The action taken by national security agency can’t be accepted.”
On 3 March, state-controlled Radio Mogadishu reported Somali information minister, Abdikarim Hassan Jama, was not aware of the closure of the Kumiye Radio station. However, Jama spoke on government radio the next day saying reports indicated TFG forces from the local security institution had closed down Radio Kulmiye.
Jama echoed other reports suggesting that the reason for Kulmiye Radio's closure was that the station had interviewed teenagers who had escaped from Islamists and joined the government and broadcast their allegations. The information minister said an investigation was underway, but no further reports have been issued yet.
Somali media associations, including the Somali Journalists Associations Network, condemned the order. The Somali media associations were critical of the silencing of the media at a time when the journalists are dealing with harsh attacks from the various warring groups in Somalia. They urged the government to protect the media.
The director of Kulmiye Radio, Osman Abdullahi Guure said: “I don’t know why they silenced our radio. This (is a) step against... freedom of expression. The main purpose (of) Radio Kulmiye is to tell the reality, and it is (a) medium for the whole Somali population. Everyone can see that Radio Kulmiye is impartial. (It has) become the most beloved and listened-to radio (station) in various parts of the country, particularly in the city (Mogadishu).”
Radio Kulmiye began broadcasting in mid-February 2011, and its staff were astonished at the temporary shutting down of their station. Now that the station is back on air, it will endeavour to continue its mission of providing an independent voice in Mogadishu. The attacks on journalists by the TFG and armed groups violate the rights to freedom of expression and the media, as recognised in international and regional human rights treaties. The warring parties need to cease the closure and muzzling of media houses and arrests of journalists. FAM
AY Mohamed is a Somali journalist, who has lived in Uganda since 2008. He has worked for several different media platforms in Somalia. From 2002 to 2007 he was director of the Hiran Journalist Club, a local organisation for the promotion of journalism and human rights.
Photo: Somali government soldiers patrol along a main road in Warshadaha, February 23, 2011, during clashes between Islamist insurgents and government troops in the capital Mogadishu. Somali troops backed by peacekeepers seized three rebel bases in the capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, the government said, in a new offensive against hardline Islamist militants. REUTERS/Omar Faruk.