Puntland anti-terror law limits free press
Abdifatah Jama Mire, the director of a radio station in Puntland, is in jail for airing an interview of an Islamist rebel leader, despite an appeals judge admitting that the prosecution has no evidence against him.
The government of the semi-autonomous region of Somalia has since banned all interviews or reports on alleged terrorists through an anti-terror law which has not been made public.
Mire, the director of Horseed FM, was arrested in Bossaso on 13 August because his station broadcast an interview of Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom, an Islamist insurgent leader who wants to establish an Islamic state in Puntland, and whom the authorities consider to be a terrorist.
Mire was condemned to a six-year jail sentence and a 500 dollar fine. His lawyer appealed the ruling, and after it was postponed, it finally came before the Bari regional Court of Appeal on 4 September.
The judge told the prosecution that it did not have enough evidence against the head of the radio station and gave them until three days to present more compelling evidence. So far, they have not done so and Mire is still in jail.
“On the same day Mire was arrested, the Information Ministry released a communiqué saying that the media couldn’t interview people regarded as terrorist or in the opposition,” explains Mahad Moussa Ahmed, managing director of Horseed Media, the parent company of the station Mire managed.
Mahad says that the Puntland constitution safeguards the freedom of the press, but he is concerned about a new anti-terror law passed by Parliament that has not yet been made public.
“It is a strange thing that the Parliament passes a law that the people doesn’t even understand or access. And they [the government] are now saying that they will use the new law to prosecute the media and other people as well,” he says.
The Puntland Parliament is not elected by the people; the 66 members are selected by the clans living in the region, who in turn vote for a President.
“So far, we have never seen the Parliament investigate what the government does,” Ahmed says.
He says the jailing of Mire is the first time Puntland has acted in such a repressive fashion against the media. Until now, journalists could freely interview opponents to the regime.
Ahmed says the government is changing, wanting more control of the media.
“The current government of President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole is quite new, with only two years in power,” he explains.
“It has been given a deadline to hold a referendum and implement a multi-party system in the coming years… We see this new government strategy as a way to have a grip on the independent media and control who can be interviewed by the media. It is a long term strategy by the government to censor the media.”