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Shabelle off air and staff evicted, fearing for safety

Radio Shabelle was forced out of these offices on Saturday. (NPR)

The young staff members of Radio Shabelle, whose offices were in the relatively safe section of Mogadishu next to the airport, are no longer feeling safe.  On Saturday, while presenters were on the air, heavily armed security forces raided the Shabelle offices and arrested the three-dozen staff members at gunpoint, according to a statement by the Shabelle Media Network.  The security forces dismantled and took all of the equipment for Radio Shabelle and Sky-FM, a sister station in the same building, as well as Shabelle TV. 

When they were released later Saturday, many of the young men and women who worked at Radio Shabelle were reluctant to leave the police station, fearing for their safety, according to local journalists. Radio Shabelle is the most targeted station in Somalia, with 10 journalists killed since 2007, according to CPJ research. When the station was operating, most of the staff remained inside the building for safety, even overnight, because they were too scared to walk on the streets, according to Radio Shabelle Chairman Abdimalik Yusuf.

The government claims that the station was forced off the air because the government was repossessing its own building; the station had five days' notice to vacate the building. Spokesman Abdirahman Omar told me the broadcaster had plenty of time to relocate but ignored the government's warnings and that the expulsion had nothing to do with the station's reporting.

Shabelle Media Network claimed it has rights to remain until 2015 and was legally occupying the space under an agreement with the previous government. "This is about silencing Radio Shabelle," Chairman Abdimalik told Al Jazeera. "This is politics and has nothing to do with the premises." A statement from Shabelle Media Network said that before the broadcaster moved in, it renovated the building, which had been destroyed in the civil war, for US$45,000. It added that it suspected the orders were based on its reporting of deteriorating security conditions in Mogadishu.

Whoever is right, the government's handling of the matter left something to be desired. No court order was issued for the raid and an appeal petition filed by Shabelle Media Network was ignored, according to news reports. The security forces broke down the entrance gate and beat members of the staff with the butt of their guns before herding them into trucks. They were detained for over six hours at the Central Investigations Department and then released without charge.

Despite Shabelle's poor treatment, there was only a muted outcry by local journalists, who tell me the station's standards have deteriorated. Several journalists said Shabelle's salaries are low, there are no employment contracts, no training programs, and employees have few rights. One, not a Shabelle employee, described staff members being "just like mercenaries working for food."

While government authorities and media owners squabble over contracts and real-estate, it is these young journalists who risk the most and receive the least.

October 30, 2013 10:49 AM ET |

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