Shooting the Messenger in Somalia
In 2006, an Islamist movement with links to al Qaeda called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) came to power in Somalia. After seizing control of most of the country, they began putting in place a repressive Taliban-like despotism that murdered journalists, closed radio stations and sought to prohibit any form of expression or entertainment deemed "un-Islamic".
In December 2006, a U.S. backed Ethiopian invasion deposed the ICU and restored Somalia's transitional government to power in Mogadishu. Unfortunately, the ICU was able to survive and has launched a brutal insurgency against the new regime. Unable to cope with the Islamists, the Somali transitional government has now literally resorted to shooting the messenger. An article from the January 3 Washington Times explains:
Somalia's fledgling national government has targeted reporters in an apparent bid to suppress reports of fighting between national forces and Islamic insurgents in Mogadishu, the capital.
Government forces have shut down three of the city's 10 independent radio stations and arrested scores of locally based reporters. As many as five journalists remain in detention weeks or months after their arrests.
Last month, some radio stations were permitted to transmit again, provided they submitted to government censorship. The harassment and death threats continue nonetheless.
The crackdown began in September, when armored vehicles shot up the headquarters of Radio Shabelle during a morning news meeting on the pretense that someone inside had thrown a hand grenade.
Staff members cowered in their offices for five hours, frantically trying to call the Information Ministry — which like the rest of government has fled to the relative safety of Baidoa, 150 miles north — while government troops attempted to breach the radio station's thick walls.
The attackers eventually gave up. There were no serious injuries.
A month later, the government ordered Shabelle shut down. Two other radio stations also were closed.
This brutal crackdown on the media is both vile and counterproductive. The ICU won't go away just because the media are unable to talk about them. More importantly, by crushing free expression the transitional government is showing itself to be just as brutal as the Islamists yet not as good at maintaining order. By giving Somalis a choice of either repression and chaos or repression and order, the regime is all but guaranteeing that the ICU will eventually retake control of the country.