Annals of Liberation: Bush-Backed Somali Warlords Muzzle Media

Somalia Shuts Down Four Broadcasters (Toronto Star, via the ever-vigilant Angry Arab) [Update below]

Well, that didn't take long, did it? Excerpts:

Somalia's Ethiopian-backed transitional government shut down four broadcasters yesterday, including a major network founded by three Somali-born Canadians, who were trying to help rebuild their violence-ravaged homeland.

"At about 1 p.m. we got a letter instructing us to close the station," said Ali Iman Sharmarke, a managing partner of the popular HornAfrik radio and television network. "We were surprised, because we thought the media could relax once the Islamists lost control."

Sharmarke, Mohamed Elmi and Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, all Somali refugees with comfortable professional careers in Ottawa, returned to Somalia in 1999 and founded HornAfrik, the country's first non-partisan, independent broadcaster. It quickly built up a large and enthusiastic audience for its network of seven radio stations, an Internet website and satellite television link.

The network, which offered talk, news and music programs, was the winner of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression's 2002 International Press Freedom Award for its courage in facing down threats and intimidation in an environment of extreme violence.

CJFE executive director Anne Game said the new restrictions on HornAfrik and others – including Al Jazeera – "are being made under the guise of national security. Somalia's clampdown on its broadcasters is alarming and closes off one of the only independent news sources accessible to the people of Mogadishu."

The broadcasters have been ordered to appear before the national security agency, which is struggling to maintain order as pockets of resistance continue attacks on the Ethiopians, and gun battles flare between criminal gangs and militias roaming the streets…

Another partner in HornAfrik, Mohamed Elmi, said the government "doesn't want free media that really give people the real information. They want distorted information."

He said in a phone interview from Ottawa, "Some of the things I was hearing are that they don't want us to say the Ethiopian armies are supporting the government. They don't want our news ... on who was searched, or who collected weapons, or any other activity the Ethiopian army is doing."

UPDATE: Make a little noise, get something done. Protests have now forced the Somali "government" to put the stations back on the air. From Reuters:

The Somali government on Tuesday relaxed a ban on four major media outlets it had closed, accusing them of biased coverage during the Horn of Africa nation's recent war, media owners said. Officials complained the outlets -- including two of Somalia's largest independent broadcasters and the local office of Al Jazeera TV -- aired unconfirmed reports and leaned toward Islamists ousted at the New Year by an Ethiopian-led offensive. But Monday's closures brought the government a blaze of unwelcome publicity and protests from both local and foreign media watchdogs, who said it was an affront to democracy.

Now if only we can make enough noise to get something done about the affronts to democracy in America.