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Second journalist slain in 2010; censorship and imprisonment in Puntland

Authorities in Puntland, a semi-autonomous area of Somalia, have banned journalists from interviewing rebels who are fighting this regional government. One journalist who broadcast an interview with an Islamist rebel chief has been punished with a six-year prison sentence, report the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI). In the capital, Mogadishu, clashes continue between the Transitional Federal Government and the Islamist group Al-Shabaab, taking the life of another journalist, report NUSOJ and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Fighting between insurgents and African Union troops has become more intense in Mogadishu in recent days. A prominent radio journalist Barkhad Awale Adan, 60, was on duty at the Hurma Radio station in Mogadishu, on 24 August, when he was killed during an exchange of gunfire between Al-Shabaab and government forces.

Adan, a journalist for 30 years, spent the last four years as director of this community radio station, located in a government-controlled area. He is the second journalist killed on duty in Somalia this year.

The same day, at least 33 people were killed when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at a hotel near the presidential palace.

On 23 August, Al-Shabaab took over privately owned Radio Holy Quran (IQK) in northern Mogadishu, reports NUSOJ, which fears the station will now be used to spread hate messages. "Al-Shabaab is permanently depriving the Somali people of independent and unbiased information by forcefully taking over privately owned media ventures."

In Puntland, the information minister held a press conference on 15 August and ordered the media not to interview rebels in the mountain villages along the north-eastern coast. The rebels have been combating Puntland forces in the district of Galgala.

The minister claimed the rebels have links with international terrorists and threatened that any journalist or media house that fails to obey this order will face "severe punishment".

Prior to announcing this new decree, Abdifatah Jama Mire, director of radio Horseed Media FM, was arrested on 13 August after interviewing the militant leader Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom. Seven other journalists were arrested and released.

Mire was accused of "broadcasting views of people who are fighting the government" and found guilty of breaching Puntland's anti-terror law on 14 August. The media were barred from the trial, which only lasted a few minutes, and Mire was not permitted to have a lawyer.

"Undoubtedly this is a politicised and reprehensible judgement that is meant to send a strong message of how Puntland authorities are prejudiced towards independent journalism and diversity of opinion", said NUSOJ.

Media repression has played out in other ways, too. On 10 August, journalist Nuh Muse Birjeb was suspended from work by the Puntland Ministry of Information. Birjeb works with the Voice of America (VOA) Somali Service and is also a correspondent for Universal TV in the Puntland regions. Another VOA Somali service correspondent, Mohamed Yasin Isak, was also under threat from Puntland; he fled to Kenya after he escaped from several attacks.

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