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Freelance photographer arrested while covering demonstration; NUSOJ expresses grave concern for press freedom

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) expresses its deep concern over the increasing dangers confronted by Somali journalists and the growing clampdown on the operations of the media in Mogadishu.

The shutdown of three well-known, privately-owned radio stations - Shabelle, Simba and Banadir - by the security forces of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) illustrates a rising trend of intolerance for press freedom by TFG officials. Shabelle Radio was closed on 12 November 2007, while Simba Radio and Banadir Radio were forced to cease operations the following day (see IFEX alerts of 14 and 13 November 2007).

On 15 November 2007, three plain-clothes officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested freelance photojournalist Salah Mohammed Adde at a demonstration at Banadir Football Stadium in north Mogadishu organised by the Administration of Banadir Region. When arrested, Salah was taking pictures of the demonstrators, who were expressing support for security operations carried out by TFG forces with the backing of Ethiopian troops.

"Journalism in Mogadishu is at a serious point and media professionals are facing extreme dangers on a daily basis," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of our colleague Salah Mohammed Adde."

The motive behind the journalist's arrest is unknown. Salah is being held at CID headquarters. "Salah did nothing wrong or suspicious, but such an arrest depends on how the officer (security person) sees you," a friend of Salah, who was standing with him when arrested, said anonymously out of fear for his safety.

The National Union of Somali Journalists has learned that Mogadishu journalists, particularly reporters and freelancers, are the most vulnerable people in the media. Many of them are now forced to leave their profession because of open threats and intimidation they and their families confront.

"We are alarmed by the recent announcement of the Mayor of Mogadishu, who ordered the electronic media to register," Omar said. "The media community is in a state of confusion about who should register, under what conditions and the legality of that registration while the draft media law has still not been put before parliament".

"We feel that given the absence of a liberal law regulating the media and dangerous attacks on the press, such a public statement from the Mayor can be taken as a serious act to curtail media freedom," he said.

According to the records of the National Union of Somali Journalists, eight media employees have been killed so far this year, while 47 journalists and media assistants have been jailed because of their work. No crimes against journalists have been investigated and prosecuted, apart from the recent arrest of the killer of journalist Abdulkadir Mahad Moallim Kaskey, who was shot by clan militiamen in Baidoa (see IFEX alert of 24 August 2007).

"The most distressing thing is the impunity of those who attack, threaten and kill journalists," Omar said. "Yet in spite of this culture of exemption from punishment, media professionals themselves are being arrested and subjected to cruel treatments."

In the snowballing armed conflict, belligerent groups are accustomed to describing journalists as "chauvinists" and "prevaricators" to justify their crimes against media professionals, NUSOJ said.

NUSOJ urges President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed to build trust by taking immediate action to end ongoing press freedom violations, guaranteeing publicly the safety of journalists, becoming a supportive ally of Somali media and leading actions by his government to investigate and bring to justice those who attack journalists and media.

NUSOJ backs the closed media houses in their refusal of the Mogadishu mayor's calls to admit they have made mistakes in order to be allowed to resume operations.

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