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Somali journalists released from jail

October 8, 2015

Somalia’s government released late Wednesday two journalists who spent a week in jail after broadcasting a debate on the presence of foreign forces in the country.

Universal TV’s regional director Abdullahi Hersi and producer Awil Dahir Salad were set free but the independent London-based broadcaster remained off the air and its Mogadishu office was closed Thursday.

“We are very pleased that the journalists have been released,” information minister Mohamed Abdi Heyr told reporters Thursday.

However, he warned journalists, “to tell stories wisely while avoiding anything that implicates the nation’s stability and unity.”

The Universal TV journalists said they were relieved to be free.

“After six days in jail, we are eventually free and can go back to our lives,” said Salad. “We were shocked that we have been accused of engaging in state destruction and implicating the country’s stability.”

The journalists were arrested when national intelligence agents raided their studio on October 2 after it broadcast a debate on the role of foreign forces in Somalia.

The internationally-backed government in Mogadishu is protected by the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, with troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

AMISOM is battling the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab Islamists.

The arrests drew condemnation from the United Nations, United States and press freedom groups.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries for reporters to operate, and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks it just eight places off the bottom of a list of 180 countries for press freedom.

Hersi and Salad were held without charge and were not taken to court, despite a statement from the government saying they would be formally charged.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.