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Puntland radio station closed, director held

The staff of Codka Nabadda (Voice of Peace). (Somalia Report)

New York, March 5, 2012--Authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia shut down an independent radio broadcaster and arrested the station's director over coverage of fighting between the government and Al-Shabaab militants, local journalists said.

Around 10:20 p.m. Saturday, armed police arriving in two vehicles raided Codka Nabadda (Voice of Peace) in the port city of Bossasso, confiscated equipment, and sealed the studios, local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists. An hour later, police raided the home of the station's director, Awke Abdullahi, and are holding him at the Bossasso Central Police Station. He has not been charged, although it is not legal in Puntland to hold a suspect for more than 48 hours without charge.

The raids occurred hours after Codka Nabadda, in an afternoon program called "Bandhiga Codka Nabadda," aired coverage of clashes between Puntland government forces and militants linked to Al-Shabaab in Puntland's Galgala mountains, according to local reports. The program interviewed presidential spokesman Ahmed Omar Hersi about the fighting as well as Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Mus'ab.

Puntland Deputy Security Minister Abdi Jamal Osman told reporters at a press conference Sunday that the station was closed due to "false reporting" and for inciting instability in the Bossasso region, according to local journalists. Abdullahi is expected to appear in court next week, he said. He also said that only a presidential pardon would ensure that the station reopens and Abdullahi is released, according to local journalists.

Puntland security forces had warned local journalists in the past not to broadcast news about fighting in the Galgala area, according to local reports.

"No independent broadcaster should be shuttered simply for doing their job as professional journalists, interviewing both sides of a story," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Authorities should release Abdullahi and reopen the station immediately."

In August 2010, authorities arrested the former director of Horseed Radio, Abdifatah Jama, for authorizing an interview of a rebel commander with Al-Shabaab links in the Galgala Mountains. Jama faced a six-year prison sentence but was released on presidential pardon after 86 days.

Al-Shabaab-linked militias in northeastern regions of Puntland, led by Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom, have waged a conflict against Puntland authorities for several years. Local journalists have continually faced threats, arrests, and harassment for reporting on the conflict.

Radio Codka Nabadda is considered one of the most independent stations in Somalia, according to local journalists. It operates two other stations based in Mogadishu and Galkayo.

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