Somalia: US defends VOA journalist after NISA outbursts
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The US has joined hundreds of scholars, journalists, fans and social media enthusiasts in defending renowned journalist and author Harun Maruf, who has been accused by Somali authorities of "undermining sovereignty" of the Horn of Africa nation.
In a jibe targeting Mr. Maruf, spy agency NISA accused him of having links to "terrorist" elements and threatened to "initiate legal action" against him once "we are through with investigations".
Maruf, a US-based journalist working for the Voice of America, was also accused of "acting beyond his jurisdictions", although the spy agency did not immediately reveal contacts or issues being investigated about the popular reporter.
And in what could throw Somali authorities to unprecedented quagmire, the US, which is a major development partner of the ravaged nation, condemned NISA's outbursts, insisting that Maruf's work is "professional".
In a tweet on Sunday, the US added that NISA's attacks "threaten press freedom and independent independent media as a foundation of democratic and accountable governance in Somalia".
Somalia government has in the past struggled to defend itself against persistent criticism about violation of human rights, police brutality, censorship of media and at times, extrajudicial killings targeting government critics.
More often than not, the US, through ambassador Donald Yamamoto, has encouraged dialogue as a fundamental factor in uniting the ever fragile nation, which is battling with the ghosts of civil war and Al-Shabaab menace.
Harun Maruf recently unveiled "Investigative Dossier" programme in VOA, which has seen him interview senior Al-Shabaab defectors. A number of his guests have frequently incriminated senior government officials, who are accused of being the group's sympathisers.
Although it's not clear whether or not the programme could have contributed to his predicaments, Mr. Maruf is also the co-author of Inside Al-Shabaab: The Secret History of Al-Qaida's Ally, which gives insights about sophisticated operations of the group.
For the better part of Saturday, various scholars, educationists, journalists and ordinary Somalis stood in solidarity with Maruf, with some accusing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo of "witch-hunt" and "intimidations".
"This should elicit strong critical responses from the EU, UN, and the countries that essentially fund the Somali federal government," said Christopher Anzalone, a senior researcher on extremism in the US.
"It’s astounding Somalia’s Intelligence Agency NISA is threatening without providing any evidence one of Somalia’s greatest reporter investigative journalist Maruf," added Abdirashid Hashi. "M_Farmaajo and SomaliPM should tell this outfit to leave journalists alone."
For Abdirahman Abdishakur, the leader of Wadajir party, the allegations by NISA amounted to "intimidation" against the VOA reporter, who often comments on social-economic and geopolitical topics in relation to Somalia.
"Thi is an open war against freedom of the press and the independent media. It is also evidence of abuse of the power of security agencies to prevent the public from getting objective and impartial news," he noted.
The intelligence agency works under the powerful director Fahad Yasin, a former Al-Jazeera journalist, who is also accused of being the "plot" behind the frequent harassment and threats for ouster of federal leaders.
Yasin, who rarely comments on allegations again him, has previously been linked to behind the scene deals, including brokering a meeting between President Farmajo and opposition figures in December last year.
More often than not, his office has been accused of "gross incompetence", including in December when he blamed a foreign country of plotting Mogadishu bomb blast that left over 90 dead, only for Al-Shabaab to take responsibility.
In some of Maruf's investigations, some of the government officials have been exposed of having strong ties with the Al-Qaida associated insurgents, who have caused mayhem in Somalia for the last decade.