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IFEX MEMBERS DEMAND PROTECTION FOR JOURNALISTS

Amid a backdrop of daily shootouts between Islamist insurgents, warlords and Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces, 27 IFEX members are demanding that the Somali government protect its journalists and end its own repression of the media.

2007 was the most dangerous year for journalists in Somalia's history, and this year is looking to be even worse - with one journalist killed by a roadside bomb on his way to a press conference, two seriously injured and four illegally arrested. "This represents a substantial deterioration in an already bad situation," say the groups, who signed a joint action led by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

Despite government promises to ensure security and respect for human rights, facts on the ground show that all sides of the conflict have no respect for fair reporting. Journalists and media who are found sniffing out news stories are deemed "terrorists".

The IFEX members are calling on the government to address the security crisis that has led many journalists to leave their work altogether in fear for their own safety.

Often the Transitional Federal Government itself is the perpetrator. Last year, authorities shut down five private radio stations in Mogadishu alone and attacked NUSOJ for being a free expression group. Last week, government forces raided the offices of "Waayaha Press", a Mogadishu-based privately-owned weekly newspaper, in what is suspected to be an attempt to confiscate their equipment and prevent the journalists from covering military operations in the neighbourhood.

A draft media law approved in December imposes overbroad restrictions on what may be aired or published - and even covers drawings, books and speeches. Stories that jeopardise Islam or national unity or pictures that can "spread shock within the community" are banned, for example.

IFEX members are asking President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed not to sign the bill, which requires his assent to become law.

"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," say the members.

Somalia, an impoverished nation of 7 million, has been in chaos and run by a weak transitional government since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 by clan-based warlords who then turned on each other.

The UN has been wary of sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia, which it says is home to the world's most pressing humanitarian crisis, with more than 1 million people uprooted.

Visit these links:
- Joint action: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90972/
- IFEX Somalia page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/41/
- ARTICLE 19 analysis of draft law: http://tinyurl.com/ypfl45
- English translation of draft law: http://tinyurl.com/2nsfbo
- Reuters on UN peacekeeping: http://tinyurl.com/2eqcrm
(26 February 2008)

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