MOGADISHU, Somalia — Rock, rap and love songs once filled the airwaves in Somalia's war-torn capital, one of the few pleasures residents had. But Islamist militants ordered music off the air Tuesday, labeling it un-Islamic in a hardline edict reminiscent of the Taliban.
Stations immediately complied, fearful that disc jockeys would face the harsh punishment militants mete out here: amputations and stonings. The edict is the latest unpopular order from the Islamists, who also have banned bras, musical ringtones and movies.
More than a dozen radio stations complied with the order by the militant group Hizbul Islam, the National Union of Somali Journalists said.
"Journalists working in these stations have in the past witnessed broad daylight assassination of their colleagues and have now been signaled that they would follow the same fate if they do not obey these oppressive orders," said the union's secretary-general, Omar Faruk Osman.
Somalia has a tradition of music and most residents greeted the ban with dismay. Rock, rap and love songs from the U.S., Europe and Africa could be heard on Somali stations before the ban.
Sounds of gunfire
"Now I think we are going to be forced to hear only the horrific sounds of the gunfire and the explosions," said Khadiya Omar, a 22-year-old Mogadishu resident who called music a "tranquilizer" to help him forget life's troubles.
Somalis in the country's capital can still listen to music on two stations: one that the government controls and another that is funded by the United Nations. Both stations are based in the small area of Mogadishu under the control of government and African Union forces. Similar edicts have been imposed on stations in the southern Somali regions held by the Islamist group al-Shabab.
Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years. Thousands of civilians have died in violence-wracked Mogadishu in a conflict that has intensified the last three years and the U.N. estimates some 100,000 people have been displaced in the capital this year alone.
Islamic insurgents control much of Mogadishu and have been trying to topple the country's fragile, U.N.-backed government.
The music ban went into effect one day after fighting between the Somali government and Islamist insurgents killed 21 people in Mogadishu.
"We are in a war-ravaged country and music is what brings us relief from anger, frustration, depression, fatigue and other emotional and physical pain," said Isaq Ali, a Mogadishu resident.
The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said Tuesday he was worried about the plight of civilians in the capital, the principal victims of the fighting. In March, more than 30 civilians were killed and 900 wounded in fighting, Bowden said. More than 100 of the injuries were children under age 5.
The deputy chairman of the Somali Foreign Correspondents Association, Mohamed Ibrahim Nur, condemned the music ban and called for Hizbul Islam to retract the order.
"This will paralyze the already violence-affected media in Somalia and will deprive Somalis from getting independent information free from threat, censorship and imposition of radical addicts," he said.
'No other option'
Any station that defies the order could face severe punishments. The Islamists frequently assassinate those who defy them or carry out punishments like amputations. Abdulahi Yasin Jama at Tusmo broadcasting said that stations have no choice but to comply.
"We had no other option but to stop playing music. Now that we have dropped music we may lose listeners. If we ignore the warning we have to face the wrath of the militants," said one of Mogadishu's radio directors, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal attacks.
The director noted that the station also would have to re-record all of its commercials that contain music.
The order to stop the music echoes the Taliban's strict social rules imposed on Afghans beginning in the late 1990s. The Taliban banned music and movies and didn't allow women to leave their homes without an escort by a male family member.
The ban on music means that even talk-radio stations will have to make changes. Jama, from the independent broadcaster, said his station would have to stop using music as a bridge between programs.
"We are using other sounds, such as gunfire, the noise of vehicles and birds to link up our programs and news," he said.
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