Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab's announcement yesterday that it is banning the Internet in the areas of Somalia that it controls.
"By preventing the public from using the Internet in the areas it controls, Al-Shabaab is launching an unprecedented offensive against freedom of information," Reporters Without Borders said.
"This Islamist militia's goals are clear. It wants to eliminate the Internet as an information platform and prevent all communication. Cutting off these areas in this way from the rest of the country and the world and reducing them to silence is intolerable."
"It is also very worrying that Al-Shabaab regards mobile Internet as a tool for violating privacy, when Internet access is seen as a fundamental right in many countries. We urge Al-Shabaab to lift this ban at once."
Reporters Without Borders added: "It is ironic that, to bring the communiqué announcing the ban to the public's attention, pro-Shabaab websites posted it online."
In its communiqué, Al-Shabaab gave Internet Service Providers 15 days to terminate their service and warned of sanctions for non-compliance. "Any company or individual that is found ignoring the call will be considered to be working with the enemy," the statement said.
Al-Shabaab's strategy of controlling the population by censoring information is not new, but it has been given more emphasis as a result of the military setbacks it has received in the past two years from the Somali army, supported by African Union troops.
Last November, Al-Shabaab deprived the town of Barawe of television. Somalis make considerable use of the Internet, especially on smartphones, but Al-Shabaab regards it as a means for spying. The militia is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Predators of Freedom of Information."
Somalia is ranked 170th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.