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Somalia journalists beaten, radio stations taken off air: union

By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali security agents stormed and shut down two radio stations, beat and detained reporters, and impounded their equipment, their union said.

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) said the raid in Mogadishu on Saturday was connected to stories Radio Shabelle and SkyFM, both part of the Shabelle Media Network, had aired touching on accusations of corruption within government.

Police said they were carrying out an eviction order after the network failed to vacate the government-owned building. Both stations were housed in the same building, which also served as a residence for the journalists.

"They did not follow the order to abandon the government building. The government had told them to leave the building in which the radio operated because it was not theirs," Colonel Abdikadir Mohamed, a senior police officer told Reuters.

Journalists have been among the victims since Somalia descended into war in the early 1990s, with last year being the deadliest on record for journalists in the country, with 18 killed, according to NUSOJ.

"Radio Shabelle was on air during the attack and the public could hear the beatings and noise inside the studio until the police violently disabled computer servers and radio transmission equipment before shutting down the generators, effectively halting broadcasting indefinitely," NUSOJ said.

The union said police arrested 36 journalists and detained them for several hours, adding police sources had told it that officers were working on bringing criminal charges against eight reporters and the chairman of Shabelle Media Network.

Mogadishu's security has been improving in recent months but many parts of the city remain no go areas for aid workers and journalists. All media companies and radio stations are congested around the well-secured K4 and airport areas.

"The raiding of Radio Shabelle and SkyFM and the arbitrary switch-off of two radio stations clearly indicates an orchestrated invasion on free media and drastically injures the rights to freedom of expression, media and access to information," the union said.

Somalia is a fragmented state where the federal government has limited control beyond the boundaries of Mogadishu. Islamist al Shabaab militants, who control swathes of countryside, still carry out bombings and shootings in the capital.

In a separate incident, Mohamed Mohamud, a journalist who was shot six times by gunmen on Tuesday, died on Saturday, bringing the number of reporters killed in Somalia this year to seven. He worked for the privately owned Universal TV.

"The government always said it would arrest the murderers but has done nothing to curb assassinations. This time we will not be quiet. It has to prove it is concerned," Abdullahi Hirsi Kulmiye, East Africa bureau chief for Universal TV told Reuters.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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