Somali authorities have arrested Al-Jazeera journalist Hamza Mohamed along with a fixer and a cameraman after they returned to the capital from territory controlled by al-Shabab militants.
Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) Mohamed Ibrahim Moallimu visited the three in prison Wednesday.
"Hamza told me they went out of Mogadishu to do their job, and that on their way back they were stopped by NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency) security forces who arrested them,” Moallimu said, urging the government to release them immediately.
Information Minister of Somalia Mohamed Abdi Mareye, in an interview with VOA Somali, confirmed the arrest of the three journalists and says the security forces are questioning them.
“As far as we know, the journalists have entered the country without informing the government, the Ministry of Information and Security agencies about their arrival, and then they travelled to a terrorist-held area where they received a big welcome,” he said. “They will be asked about how they entered the country, how they contacted the leaders of the terrorist organization, and who they met in those remote areas,” Mareye said.
Mareye declined to identify members of al-Shabab leaders the journalists allegedly met but he said the Somali government considers it a “crime to make propaganda for terrorists”.
FILE - Al-Shabab fighters are seen marching with their weapons during exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 17, 2011.
Mareye alleged that the three were planning to leave the country with a “one-sided story” and intended to leave the country without the government’s knowledge. He said they will be released once the questioning ends unless “criminal implications come up”.
Asked if interviewing al-Shabab leaders would be considered as a crime by his government, Mareye said “terrorists are not a legitimate force”.
VOA Somali has contacted Al-Jazeera's office in Mogadishu and has not received a response.
In a story posted on Al-Jazeera website, the organization said, “Mohamed has frequently travelled to the country over the past few years to cover politics, economics and culture for Al Jazeera with accuracy and integrity”. The statement said Al-Jazeera “is hoping ... that he will be released without further delay".
Meanwhile, Somali authorities on Tuesday released the editor of a local newspaper.
The editor of Xog-Ogaal newspaper Abdi Aden Guled welcomed his release after three days in prison that came as a result of negotiations between the government and the National Union of Somali Journalists.
He said he was visited in the prison last by the Director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency General Gafow and the Secretary General of NUSOJ Moallimu. “General Gafow asked me some questions, he said you are free and your equipment will be returned in the morning,” Guled told VOA.
Guled said after a three-day shutdown, the newspaper will be available in the streets Thursday morning. He said the security agents who arrested him complained about a picture published by the paper last week which they viewed as “graphic” following the killing of civilians by al-Shabab in El-Ali town.