International and local rights groups are demanding the immediate release of journalists being held by the Somali government.
Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government is facing intense criticism after the detention of two journalists from Mogadishu’s Shabelle Media Network.
On Sunday, the National Security Agency arrested Radio Shabelle News Editor Abdi Mohammed Ismail and Director Abdirashid Omar Qasse after summoning them to the agency’s headquarters. While no official reason was given for their arrest, the journalists were detained following a report on Radio Shabelle which stated that President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was unable to visit parts of Mogadishu due to lack of security.
Representatives of the media house slammed the arrest, pointing out that organizations such as the Voice of America had broadcast similar reports.
The Africa head of Reporters Without Borders, Ambroise Pierre, blasted the arrest of Ismail and Qasse as a double blow to Somali journalists.
“The situation in Somalia for the journalists is already appalling because of the insecurity and the Islamist militias being very intolerant towards freedom of expression," said Pierre. "The fact that the TFG is now also being repressive on journalists is extremely worrying. It seems that finally the danger will come from all sides in Somalia for journalists.
The Paris-based organization said late Monday there was evidence that the Shabelle journalists were being denied access to lawyers, family visits and even food.
Efforts led by Somalia’s Information Ministry and members of parliament are reportedly being taken to secure the release of Ismail and Qasse. But according to Pierre the government has demanded an apology from Radio Shabelle as a precondition for their release.
“We are shocked by this behavior. It shows that the government is clearly trying to control what is being said on the TFG," said Pierre. "One should never ask media to apologize when the media just made a report that is true and professional. We think that it is really bad practice to try to bargain the release of two journalists against apologies.”
The Shabelle Media Network is a major media outlet both within Somalia and throughout east Africa. Radio Shabelle has been frequently threatened by Somalia’s Islamist rebels and was awarded the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize in December.