- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008


Somalia’s fledgling national government has targeted reporters in an apparent bid to suppress reports of fighting between national forces and Islamic insurgents in Mogadishu, the capital.

Government forces have shut down three of the city’s 10 independent radio stations and arrested scores of locally based reporters. As many as five journalists remain in detention weeks or months after their arrests.

Last month, some radio stations were permitted to transmit again, provided they submitted to government censorship. The harassment and death threats continue nonetheless.

The crackdown began in September, when armored vehicles shot up the headquarters of Radio Shabelle during a morning news meeting on the pretense that someone inside had thrown a hand grenade.

Staff members cowered in their offices for five hours, frantically trying to call the Information Ministry — which like the rest of government has fled to the relative safety of Baidoa, 150 miles north — while government troops attempted to breach the radio station’s thick walls.

The attackers eventually gave up. There were no serious injuries.

A month later, the government ordered Shabelle shut down. Two other radio stations also were closed.

In the wake of the shutdowns, radio staff members began to receive anonymous death threats by phone and e-mail, as often as twice daily in the case of Ahmed Omar Hashi, a senior producer and reporter at Shabelle.

“Where is the owner of this phone?” one anonymous caller asked Nov. 22, when a reporter answered Mr. Hashi’s cell phone. “Tell him I have seen him this morning and that I will kill him.”

Mr. Hashi said he suspects government agents of making the threats because other groups vying for power in Mogadishu, including the occupying Ethiopian army and various Islamic and nationalist insurgent groups, do not have a history of violence against Somali reporters.

Moqtar Roboow, a spokesman for the insurgents, has been known to call reporters to offer interviews.

“I believe the reason they shut us down was because we took pictures of women and children [killed in the fighting] and put them on our Web site,” Mr. Hashi said.

Somali stringers for the international press face even greater danger than reporters working for local outlets.

“We have the ability to show things outside of the country to the international community, and that becomes negative for the government,” said Mustafa Haji Abdiner, a stringer for Agence France-Presse. “They hunt us down.”

Every one of 13 Mogadishu journalists interviewed for this article has been arrested in recent months.

At least eight Somali journalists were killed on the job in 2007, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world for reporters.

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