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Insurgent Group Bans VOA, BBC Broadcasts in Somalia

  • Michael Onyiego

Al-Shabab, an Islamic insurgency group allied to al-Qaida, has ordered Somali radio stations broadcasting news programming from VOA and the British Broadcasting Corporation to immediately cancel their contracts.

VOA issued a statement Friday afternoon saying, "VOA regrets this decision. We believe broadcasting news and information on FM stations serves the Somali people."

Al-Shabab accused the BBC of confusing Muslims with western ideas and insulting the Islamic insurgents. The BBC was also accused of broadcasting propaganda for the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government which is attempting to expel the rebel group from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

The head of the Africa Desk for Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Ambroise Pierre, said al-Shabab's actions were part of a pattern of hostility towards journalists.

"We already knew that al-Shabab was an enemy of press freedom," he said. "The Islamist militia showed in the past, with killings of journalists and kidnappings and threats against the radio station, that it was an enemy. Today's move from this militia is a new demonstration of their behavior against independent media, independent voice and local journalists."

The Mogadishu-based National Union of Somali Journalists also condemned the ban, saying al-Shabab's actions demonstrated a complete lack of respect for media freedom in Somalia.

The group also reported that al-Shabab had raided the BBC's offices in Mogadishu, seizing broadcast equipment as a warning to other radio stations.

The news ban is the latest threat to radio freedom in the Horn of Africa nation. Earlier this week Hizbul Islam, an Islamic insurgency group with ties to al-Shabab, ordered all radio stations in Mogadishu to stop playing music.

Somalia has been without a functioning government for 20 years. Al-Shabab has been fighting the Transitional Federal Government to impose an Islamic state since 2007 and controls much of southern and central Somalia, including parts of Mogadishu.


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