Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Somali Information Minister Tahir Mahmud Gelle has stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that his country will provide what is necessary to ensure freedom of expression. He added that his Somalia is also ready to help the BBC and Voice of America (VOA) transmit their programs in Mogadishu as usual.
The Somalia Information Minister was reacting to an unexpected decision taken by the hard-line Mujahidin Youth Movement, which is opposed to the government of transitional President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, to stop the broadcasts of the two radio stations and seize their offices and equipments.
The Mujahidin Youth Movement’s decision coincided with a move by the Islamic Party in Somalia to give the radio stations in the country a 10-day notice to stop broadcasting songs and music on the grounds that songs and music are prohibited under the religious law.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Gelle said that his government is ready to extend all the necessary assistance to enable these stations to operate freely in Somalia.
Gelle noted that the Youth Movement’s decision is not useful and that it violates freedom of expression and information.
He said: “I do not believe that this decision will produce any result because these radio stations have the technological means to reach their audiences through advanced complex technological equipments.”
Gelle said the Youth Movement’s stand constitutes aggression against the media and shows that not only mouths are gagged, but also ears are plugged. He added that the group’s move is an attempt to undermine the development of the media in the world of Internet, open skies, and various broadcasting capabilities.
He continued: “We are ready to help the affected parties, whether by providing studios for them or giving them airtime. We will provide everything necessary to enable them to operate freely in Somalia.”
The Somali information minister said the Mujahidin Youth Movement’s decision was taken by a blind movement that does not follow what takes place on the ground.
He added: “These are futile decisions taken by careless parties that tamper with the country’s security and stability and violate the freedom of expression and media.”
The Mujahidin Youth Movement, which has been waging a guerrilla war against the Somali Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, for years now, prevented the BBC and VOA offices from operating in Somalia. It confiscated all the equipments of the two radio stations and said they are “crusader radio stations hostile to the project of establishing an Islamic state in Somalia.”
The movement also ordered all radio stations, which have contracts with the BBC and VOA to relay their programs, to completely stop airing these programs as of yesterday.
This decision follows an announcement by a prominent leading figure in the Islamic Party, led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, that the party gave the radio stations in Mogadishu only 10 days to stop playing songs and music, which, the prominent figure said, are prohibited under the religious law.
The Islamic Party also issued orders to all local media not to use the word “foreigners”, when referring to armed men who come from abroad to join the party ranks.
The National Society of Somali Journalists said the stand of the Youth Movement and the Islamic Party represents a serious aggression against the Somali people’s right to have access to news and information. The society added that their stand also represents an aggression against the local public opinion’s right to learn what goes on around it.
In a statement signed by its president Omar Faruq, the society said that this persistent systematic suppressive move to intimidate journalists and the various media in Somalia shows the need to put an end to the terrorism that is practiced against local and international media in Somalia.