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Twenty-seven IFEX members call for end to repression of journalists, revision of media law

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - The following is a joint letter of appeal from NUSOJ, 26 other IFEX members and one partner network:

His Excellency Nur Hassan Hussein
Somali Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Mogadishu, Somalia

Your Excellency,

We are deeply concerned about the rapidly degenerating press freedom situation in Somalia, where safety, professional rights and working conditions for media get worse every day. Since early 2007 tensions have heightened, especially in the south-central regions of the country. Last year was the most dangerous year for journalists in Somalia's history, as we witnessed numerous attacks on journalists and the death of nine of our colleagues.

Somali journalists are still working in a highly dangerous environment, with one journalist killed, two seriously injured and four illegally arrested already this year. This represents a substantial deterioration in an already bad situation.

We hail your government's stated priority to ensure security, peace and rule of law by training security agencies and staff on protection and respect for human rights and by strengthening the government's efforts to establish rule of law and good governance.

Facts on the ground, however, suggest that all sides of the conflict have no respect for fair reporting. Journalists face multiple pressures and security forces see journalists and media staff who seek information to provide accurate and authentic news reports as "terrorists". Safety of journalists and professional independence are principles of press freedom that we hold as untouchable and non-negotiable.

We believe that these attacks against journalists and media organisations constitute blatant violations and abuses of freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right of citizens to be informed.

We appeal to you, as the leader and the chair of the Council of Ministers, to use your leadership position to truly protect journalists' and media workers' safety by investigating attacks on journalists to end the current culture of impunity. This will ease the constraints on press freedom and address the security crisis, which has led many journalists to leave the profession because they feared for their own safety and the safety of their families. Some of our brave colleagues have remained on the job and paid a heavy price.

In 2007, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) shut down five private radio stations in Mogadishu, as well as Radio Warsan in Baidoa, and halted other broadcast transmissions. It also restricted media coverage of contentious issues and issued unlawful decrees curbing professional independence. As well, it attacked the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) for its efforts to represent the interests of Somali journalists and promote and protect freedom of the press and the rights of media professionals. These brutal acts of repression damaged the reputation of the TFG. We appeal to you, the TFG, not to engage in such acts again.

As someone in charge of the promotion, coordination and supervision of government policy and general administration of the country, we call upon you to build confidence in the Somali people, especially in the media community, and to pursue democratic principles and respect for human rights, with a greater degree of assurance and implementation.

The media law that was passed on 8 December 2007 has several articles that are not clearly phrased and are plainly paradoxical to international standards of free expression. Some of the articles directly entail restrictions on the media. We urge your government not to submit this media law to the president and that as the Prime Minister, you appeal to President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed not to ratify it into law. Rather it should be opened for revisions that safeguard the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, ensure protection of media independence and confidential sources, and allow for access to information.

We hope that your government will honour the values of peace, democracy, rule of law, social justice, and the dignity and integrity of all Somalis on which the Transitional Federal Charter is built.

By investigating all attacks on journalists thoroughly, holding to account those who are responsible, and protecting professional safety and security of journalists in the conduct of their work you will protect those values and allow them to take root, not just in the media sector but in the country as a whole.

Kind regards,

National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Mogadishu
Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF), Kenya
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Human rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), United States
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA)
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Freedom House, United States
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Journaliste en danger (Journalist in Danger, JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Network of African Free Expression Organisations (NAFEO), Ghana
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, United Kingdom

National Union of Somali Journalists

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