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Journalist Hassan Mohammed Abikar released; RSF urges government to commit publicly to press freedom after Mogadishu roundtable

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has urged the transitional federal government to publicly demonstrate its commitment to respect press freedom in Somalia after an historic four-day roundtable on freedom of expression was successfully held in Mogadishu by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

"Now that the guns have fallen silent, important tasks can be tackled including that of turning Somalia into a country where free expression is respected by everyone and protected by the government," the press freedom organisation said. "To show that they are committed to this, the authorities should take concrete measures such as letting Radio Warsan resume broadcasting and publicly undertaking to respect the rule of democracy in their relations with the press."

Reporters Without Borders added: "This roundtable, which was organised with support from UNESCO, has shown that serious interlocutors, ones determined to make Somalia progress, are available to the government. This opportunity should not be missed."

While welcoming the release of journalist Hassan Mohammed Abikar of Radio Quran Karim (The Voice of the Holy Koran) after 19 days in detention, Reporters Without Borders points out that Baidoa-based Radio Warsan has been arbitrarily silenced since 7 January 2007. Abikar, his station's correspondent in the Lower Shabelle region, has been able to go back to work in Afgoye (30 km outside Mogadishu), but no one has explained why he was held incommunicado for so long after being arrested by government militiamen in the southwestern city of Baidoa.

The three-day roundtable on "the promotion and protection of freedom of expression" was held in Mogadishu's Sahafi Hotel from 19 to 22 January by the NUSOJ, which is Reporters Without Borders' partner organisation in Somalia. Some 50 delegates from all of southern Somalia's provinces and from the northern breakaway state of Somaliland took part.

The participants concluded their work by issuing a statement calling on the authorities to draft and adopt legislation for the media that adheres to democratic principles, and to facilitate professional and ethical training for journalists. The statement also urged the international community to include media development in its assistance programmes for Somalia. The delegates also resolved to launch the Somali Forum for Freedom of Expression (SOFFE).

Reporters Without Borders hails Somali Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama Jengeli's determination to cooperate with the media and the constructive participation of the Director-General of his ministry in the roundtable debates. Jengeli told journalists that the government needed them.

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