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Army unit raids privately-owned radio station, orders its immediate closure

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the arbitrary closure of Mogadishu's embattled Radio Shabelle by the security forces on 12 November 2007, as a major sweep got under way against Islamist insurgents in the nearby Bakara market.

"The contempt displayed by the Somali authorities for independent news media has reached a new level with Radio Shabelle's closure," the press freedom organisation said. "Silencing one of the capital's few news sources is tantamount to blindfolding its population and leaving it to face the violence in its neighbourhoods alone. The need to combat the Islamist insurrection cannot be used to justify every kind of abuse, especially as gagging a radio station just gives more scope for rumours and confusion."

On 12 November, at around 11:30 a.m. (local time), three officers entered Radio Shabelle at the head of a military unit, ordered its immediate closure and took station manager Jafar "Kukay" Mohammed and programme director Abdirahman "Al-Adala" Yusuf off to the army high command, where they were told the closure order came from senior government officials but were offered no other explanation. They were then released.

Mohammed was the target of a murder attempt on 24 September in Mogadishu, when an unidentified man pulled out a gun from under his shirt and fired at him twice, but missed. The gunman was never caught.

The station was recently off the air for several weeks after a mixed unit of police and intelligence officers opened fire on the building that houses its studios on 18 September because they believed it had been used for a grenade attack on a patrol. The federal transitional government subsequently described the attack as an "accident." Many of the station's employees have since left the city for security reasons.

The head of the Shabelle press group, Bashir Nur Gedi, was gunned down by a group of youths outside his south Mogadishu home a month later, on 19 October.

The latest major sweep in the capital's Bakara market neighbourhood was carried out by Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian troops, who went from house to house looking for weapons and Islamist insurgents.

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