Somali government security forces have raided Shabelle Radio station in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Al Jazeera has learned.
The Somali-owned private station, considered the most popular and influential domestic station in the country, went off air shortly after the raid on Saturday.
According to the government, the station was shut down because it was occupying a government building that needed to be vacated and adequate time was given to the owners to find alternative premises.
“We gave them notice in July to vacate the government building they were occupying. When the first notice expired we gave them a second notice which expired yesterday.” Mahdi Mohamud, Somalia’s state minister for interior and national security, told Al Jazeera.
“We cannot keep on waiting for them. The government needs the building.” the minister added.
But the station management strongly disagree with the government’s explanation for the raid.
The government’s excuse was rejected by the director of the radio station, who claimed that the cause of the closure was politically-motivated.
“This is about silencing Radio Shabelle. This is politics and has nothing to do with the premises. We only received one letter and we received it five days ago.” Abdimalik Yusuf Mohamud, Radio Shabelle director, told Al Jazeera shortly after he was released from prison.
All Shabelle staff, including the security guards, were arrested during the raid. According to government officials, the arrests took place as a final resort when staff refused to vacate the premises, denying that the move aimed at silencing the station.
“That is not true. The soldiers broke down our gate with their vehicle and arrested all 36 journalists. They beat us up with the back of their guns and took all our cameras and laptops. They even broke into the safe and took $300,000.” said Mohamud.
Reacting to the raid and the shutdown, the National Union of Somali Journalists described the incident as “unfortunate”.
“We are sad about what happened to our colleagues. We request the government to release the journalists without any conditions and as soon as possible,” Mohamed Ibrahim, the union’s general secretary, said.
Radio Shabelle, housed near Mogadishu airport, is located in one of the most secure areas in the capital.
The station, which has lost more than ten journalists in the last 10 years after attacks by unknown gunmen, is known for broadcasting politically sensitive stories.
All Radio Shabelle staff have been released from prison without charges. With government security forces manning the station building and not allowing them back, they say they are forced to stay at hotels.
The journalists say the government is endangering their lives. “Many of our staff were killed by unknown gunmen. We can only stay in there [the radio station building]. It is the only safe place for our journalists to live and work from.” added Mohamud.
Somalia is considered the most dangerous country on the African continent for journalists. In 2012, the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) reported that 12 journalists were killed in Somalia, the second highest in the world after Syria, with most of the killings occurring in Mogadishu.
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