NAIROBI, Kenya -- Journalists in Somalia say the government is further restricting their work amid a significant military offensive against the al-Shabab extremist group, with a new directive to submit content for approval before publication.
In the latest incident, police in the central state of Hirshabelle detained four media personnel in Beledweyne for reporting that al-Shabab attacked rural areas after local militias fighting them withdrew over pay issues, media groups said.
Chief editor Mustaf Ali Adow of the independent Radio Hiiraanweyn and three colleagues were detained Thursday and the station was taken off the air.
A joint statement by the Somali Journalists Syndicate, the Somali Media Association and Somalia Mechanism for Safety of the Journalists condemned the raid and demanded the journalists’ immediate release.
“State security personnel shouldn’t use the continuing security operations as a justification to impose restrictions on press freedom,” Mohamed Ibrahim, president of the Somali Journalists Syndicate, told The Associated Press.
Media organizations have expressed concern about the new directive by the office of Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud that instructs media outlets to submit news content for consent before it is aired.
Many journalists have denounced the order and said that submitting content for government approval would obstruct editorial independence and the public’s right to know.
“The president’s communication office issued a new order to local news outlets on Saturday demanding they submit their content for permission before any broadcast. We all refused,” the secretary-general of the Somali Media Association, Mohamed Osman Makaran, told the AP.
Authorities haven’t publicly acknowledged the directive.
Since the government declared an all-out war against al-Shabab earlier this year, there has been growing pressure on local journalists.
The government has said journalists reporting on al-Shabab’s activities should either go to the scene or abide by authorities’ restrictions.
Abdalla Ahmed Mumin, the secretary-general of the Somalia Journalists Syndicate, an independent journalists’ union based in Mogadishu, was arrested earlier this year after criticizing a government decree telling journalists not to report on al-Shabab propaganda. He was later released on bail pending his court hearing on Jan. 4.
Somalia is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. According to media watchdogs, journalists face risks including detentions, attacks and threats.