Reporters Without Borders is extremely worried by the interior ministry's harassment of Radio Shabelle and the organization that operates it, Shabelle Media Network, which received a letter from the ministry on 20 October giving it five days to vacate its premises.
"This ministerial order has no specific legal basis and is entirely arbitrary," Reporters Without Borders said. "Evicting Radio Shabelle will not only curtail freedom of information in Somalia even more but also endanger its journalists and other employees, many of whom live in the station's premises to protect themselves from individual attack.
"Only today we learned that Universal TV journalist Mohamed Mohamud Tima'ade was the victim of a shooting in the Mogadishu neighbourhood of Madina and is now in hospital in a critical condition with six gunshot injuries. The extreme dangers of journalism in Somalia no longer need demonstrating."
Reporters Without Borders added: "Evicting Radio Shabelle would expose its employees to the same risks. We call on the Somali government to implement its constitutional and international obligations to protect journalists and respect freedom of opinion and information."
The interior ministry letter to Shabelle Media Network argues that the building it currently uses was formerly occupied by the Somali national airline and should therefore revert to the government.
The eviction order violates a 2010 agreement under which the transitional government's transport ministry gave Shabelle Media Network permission to use the building until 2015 in return for its rehabilitation.
Located in a relatively safe area, close to Mogadishu airport, the building not only houses Radio Shabelle's studios but also provides accommodation for many of the station's employees, for whom living in any other part of the city is too dangerous because of the constant threats to the news media.
The sudden eviction order, which is tantamount to a closure order, may have been prompted by a series of Radio Shabelle reports about a decline in the security situation in Mogadishu. Other radio stations housed in state-owned buildings have not received similar eviction orders.
Radio Shabelle is one of Somalia's few really independent news outlets. Its staff have succeeded in continuing to act professionally amid a great deal of tension and have not succumbed to any political or religious influences. In 2010, it received the Reporters Without Borders-FNAC Press Freedom Prize in recognition of the entire staff's work and courage.
Repeatedly targeted by the Islamist militias Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam for refusing to serve as their mouthpieces, Radio Shabelle has paid a high price for its commitment to media freedom. Ten of its journalists have been killed since 2007 and 15 of its employees have been injured, attacked or arrested since 2009. The station has also been blocked or censored six times.
Article 18 of Somalia's constitution guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. The government is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and gave several explicit undertakings to protect journalists and news media during its Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.
Somalia is ranked 175th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Photo : AFP / AU-UN IST / TOBIN JONES<br/>