Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Somali government officials were to meet on Tuesday with executives
from four major news outlets shut down for "causing unrest"
in a move drawing swift criticism from press watchdogs at home
The closure of the outlets, accused by the government of heightening
tensions by airing unconfirmed reports, came as martial law was
declared across Somalia weeks after an Ethiopian-led military
offensive ousted Islamists in the south.
"Shutting down private media houses is the worst way to
reconcile the Somali people and to bring the country out of these
long periods of chaos," Gabriel Baglo, Africa office director
of the International Federation of Journalists, said.
"We condemn this unacceptable violation of press freedom."
Representatives of HornAfrik Media and Shabelle Media Network,
two of the largest independent broadcasters, plus the Koranic
radio station IQK and the local office of Al Jazeera TV were summoned
on Tuesday to the national security agency.
Analysts said the government deems the four outlets' coverage
to have been pro-Islamist, a charge they all deny.
The National Union of Somali Journalists said the move completely
undermined democratic values.
The interim government is trying to bring the volatile nation
of 10 million under control after its soldiers, backed by Ethiopian
troops, tanks and warplanes, routed Islamists in late December
who had seized much of the south.
U.N. TO RAISE MEDIA ISSUE
The United Nations envoy to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, said
he would discuss the media closures with President Abdullahi Yusuf
and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.
"The U.N. is always in favor of freedom of expression. It
is a principle," Fall told Reuters.
On Monday, HornAfrik and Shabelle both said they had shut down.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera said it had not been informed, but saw
no reason for such a move. IQK made no immediate comment.
Underlining the challenge Yusuf and Gedi face taming a country
in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of a dictator was the latest
attack on an Ethiopian convoy in northern Mogadishu.
A doctor said eight people were wounded while a Somali government
source said three Somalis were killed.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the assault, which
happened late on Sunday in an area where Ethiopian and government
forces had seized guns, explosives and an armored car hours earlier
in a sweep to scoop up illegal weapons.
But suspicion fell on remnants of the Islamist movement who have
vowed to wage a guerrilla war, clan gunmen and militias loyal
to former warlords who have returned to the capital.
Ethiopia wants to pull out its soldiers in the coming weeks.
Diplomats fear that would leave a security vacuum around the
fledgling government, which has called for the urgent deployment
of a promised African Union peacekeeping force.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in Nairobi)