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Press freedom groups worldwide expressed horror at the "savage" killings of two prominent Somali journalists on 11 August 2007, saying they demonstrate the perilous conditions reporters work in and threaten an independent media for the war-torn country.

Ali Iman Sharmarke, managing director of HornAfrik Radio, was killed when a remote-controlled device blew up his car in the capital of Mogadishu. He was driving from the funeral of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, director of Radio Capital Voice, who had been shot by two gunmen on his way to work earlier that day.

Witnesses said the bomb appeared to target Sharmarke's vehicle in the middle of a convoy. Two other journalists -- Sahal Abdulle of Reuters and a Voice of America reporter -- were in Sharmarke's car and suffered light injuries, the Associated Press said.

Six journalists have been killed in Somalia so far this year, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). "This wave of attack of killing and injuring media people is an intentionally organised mission to silence [the] journalistic voice in Somalia," the union said.

Hundreds of thousands of Mogadishu residents have fled fighting in the city since January, when the Ethiopian military put a transitional government into power. CBC News said HornAfrik has criticised both the government and the militant Islamic opposition, and has been shut down several times in the past few months. Reuters said the station was shelled in April, apparently from Ethiopian positions.

Ali Sharmarke was one of three founders of the HornAfrik network, and Mahad Elmi hosted a popular radio show on it. Reuters said foreign media as well as Somalis closely monitor HornAfrik's radio, television and Internet news.

In 2002 Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) gave its International Press Freedom Award to Sharmarke and HornAfrik's two other founders, Ahmed Abdisalam Adan and Mohamed Elmi. All three had fled Somalia and come to Canada as refugees, but later returned to Somalia to start the station.

The CJFE award recognised HornAfrik, the first independent radio network in Somalia, for persisting in the face of intimidation and threats. "HornAfrik is a remarkable success story in one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to practice journalism," said CJFE executive director Anne Game.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) urged Somalia's transitional government to thoroughly investigate and punish those responsible for the killings. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also expressed outrage, warning that "political chaos and lawlessness threatens all independent journalism" in Somalia.

Eric Laroche, the resident United Nations humanitarian coordinator, called on Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to "ensure that freedom of information and media, as enshrined in article 20 of the Transitional Federal Charter, is fully protected" in draft legislation on media.

On 12 August, Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Omar Habeeb told journalists that government troops had arrested two men in north Mogadishu, "one of whom has confessed to being involved in both attacks." Mohamed Elmi, who like Adan now lives in Ottawa with his family, told CBC News that no group had claimed responsibility for the murders, but the TFG accused the armed insurgency of the crime.

However, a Human Rights Watch report released on 13 August said Ethiopian troops loyal to the TFG, as well as anti-government insurgents, have been responsible for "rampant violations" of human rights. "The warring parties have all shown criminal disregard for the well-being of the civilian population of Mogadishu," said Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth in the report, entitled "Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu".

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) said human rights defenders including journalists are caught in the crossfire between the TFG, supported by Ethiopian troops, and Islamist militias. "The TFG and other players in the politics of Somalia must ensure the protection of journalists, whose work is considered pivotal in the struggle for democracy. The killings must be investigated and the perpetrators apprehended."

It asked for appeals to be sent to the Somali charge d'afaires in Kenya at e-mail: [email protected]

On 10 August, RSF reported that gunmen wounded Radio Mogadishu journalist Abdihakin Omar Jimale in the shoulder and four government workers were killed. Local radio and TV stations stopped broadcasting in protest against the violence.

A day earlier, NUSOJ received the Percy Qoboza Foreign Journalist Award from the U.S. National Association of Black Journalists for defending press freedom. NUSOJ says 19 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 2000.

In early August, the International News Safety Institute (INSI) organised a training session for Somali journalists that was supported by NUSOJ and the Somaliland Journalists' Association.

Visit these links:
- IRIN news:
- RSF:
- IFJ:
- CBC News:
- Reuters (on Media Channel):
- Human Rights Watch report:
- Toronto Star feature:
(Photo: Ali Iman Sharmarke. Courtesy of CBC News)

14 August 2007

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