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President asked to intercede on behalf of journalist forced into hiding in Puntland

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced growing concern about the unacceptable way in which the authorities in the autonomous northeastern region of Puntland have been treating radio STN editor Awale Jama Salad, who has been forced to go into hiding after being arrested and threatened several times by the police.

The organisation has written to President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed of Somalia's transitional federal government (TFG), reminding him of his responsibilities "as guarantor of the rule of law, the safety of citizens and the free practice of journalism in Somalia," and pointing out that his influence is still decisive in Puntland, of which he is the former leader, and nothing is done there without his consent.

"Under these circumstances, you will be held directly responsible if any misfortune befalls Awale Jama Salad," Reporters Without Borders said in its letter. "It is therefore essential that you personally restore order to the Puntland police and give Awale Jama Salad clear assurances. It is unacceptable that a journalist living and working in the Somali president's stronghold should have no choice but to go to prison or go into hiding."

Reporters Without Borders finally reminded President Ahmed that it wrote to him several times already this year about the lack of respect for press freedom in Puntland without ever getting a reply. "Next year will be decisive for a return to peace and stability in Somalia," the letter concluded. "If nothing changes, the European Union's financial and political assistance to the TFG should, in our view, be conditioned on an improvement in conditions for Somalis, particularly as regards their civil and political liberties."

Police in the city of Bossasso began searching for Awale Jama Salad in the last week of October 2005, raiding his home and the homes of four of his friends. He has been in hiding since then. The police told his colleagues they wanted him to report to the police station for questioning because he had, they claimed, provided "dishonest information" to Reporters Without Borders and its partner organisation in Somalia, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

In a joint statement on 18 October, the two organisations said they were appalled by the conditions in Bossasso prison, where Awale Jama Salad was arbitrarily detained for a second time and subjected to severe physical mistreatment at the end of September after criticising conditions in the jail during an earlier spell there.

Awale Jama Salad and STN manager Abdisarak Shek Adun had been arrested on 30 June and held for nearly two weeks because of an interview with a candidate for the post of Bossasso mayor. The authorities also closed the station as a result of the interview.

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