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Government urged to explain closure of three radio stations

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders called on the transitional federal government to publicly explain the closure of three privately-owned radio stations on 6 June 2007 in Mogadishu for "supporting terrorism" and urged the authorities to take great care with the accusation made against one of the stations, HornAfrik, that it was storing firearms.

"The government's hostility towards these radio stations is well known," the press freedom organisation said. "Despite warnings, it has so far never managed to initiate a constructive dialogue with them. Closing radio stations, raiding their premises and accusing them of abetting terrorism are very grave actions."

Reporters Without Borders added: "If serious charges are brought against these stations, the authorities must act transparently and fairly, and take account of the safety of the journalists, who could be endangered by these accusations and exposed to the prevailing political violence. If not, the stations must be allowed to resume broadcasting as soon as possible."

Information minister Madobe Nounow Mohamuda wrote to the three stations - HornAfrik, Shabelle and Quran Kariim (Holy Koran) - ordering them to stop broadcasting and accusing them of "fomenting hostility, supporting terrorism, violating press freedom, sowing confusion in the population and mobilising anti-government forces."

He also wrote that the radio station's owners "are responsible for the above-mentioned actions and must be held accountable," implying that they could be prosecuted. The three stations stopped broadcasting after receiving his letter on 6 June.

HornAfrik's management said the charges were baseless and reflected "the government's usual tendency to attack press freedom."

Abdifatah Ibrahim Shawey, the deputy governor of the Banadir region and head of political and security matters, was meanwhile quoted by the website as claiming that, during a security operation in Mogadishu, police discovered an "important arsenal of different kinds of weapons" loaded on a Mitsubishi N3 four-wheel-drive vehicle hidden in the radio station's building.

The government has not provided any additional information about the closure of the other two stations, but a raid was carried out on the morning of 7 June on the premises of Shabelle.

The three stations have often been the target of hostility from the transitional government, which accuses them of biased coverage and of supporting Somalia's Islamists. The stations were previously closed for 24 hours in January after broadcasting disputed information about the security situation in Mogadishu.

Seven shells hit the premises of HornAfrik, injuring two employees, during fighting in Mogadishu on 21 April.

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