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CAPSULE REPORT: NUSOJ six-month survey finds journalists in the line of fire, press freedom muzzled

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - The following is a 30 July 2008 NUSOJ capsule report:

Muzzling Freedom of the Press: Journalists in the Line of Fire with Impunity
Concise Six-Month Report

In the first six months of 2008, a large number of Somali journalists and other media workers were subjected to various kinds of violence and oppression such as harassment, killing, professional punishment, beatings, threats, arrests, arbitrary detention, maltreatment and censorship.

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) recorded numerous cases of attacks against media professionals and news media organisations, particularly in Kismayu, Mogadishu, Galkayo, Bossasso, Baidoa, Beledweyne and Jowhar.

Journalist Hassan Kafi Hared was killed in Kismayo in January 2008, while his colleague Nasteh Dahir Farah, the vice president of NUSOJ, was ruthlessly assassinated four months later in the same town. The perpetrators of these monstrous crimes were not punished and impunity broadly prevails in Somalia. Self-censorship is on the rise as these two most recent killings had deep impact in the hearts of Somali journalists.

Journalists were caught in an iron grip between the different parties to the conflict in southern regions. Repressive practices against journalists intensified and diversified in the past six months, though the number of killings in the first half of 2007 was higher than that for this year.

Nine journalists and three other media workers were unjustifiably arrested in Mogadishu (4), Baidoa (3), Beledweyne (1), Jowhar (1) and Bossasso (3) to discourage journalists from informing the public in a fair and independent manner. These media workers were not given adequate explanation as to the reasons for their detention.

Five media houses in Mogadishu and Beledweyne were briefly shut down in the past six months as a form of intimidation. Some media outlet managers described these moves as an attempt by government to silence them and to diminish the role of private media.

Due to national and global outcries in response to attacks against media in Somalia in 2007, warring sides in the south-central regions used pernicious tactics in terrorising journalists through phone calls and face-to-face interactions. At least 23 journalists received death threats in Baidoa, Mogadishu, Jowhar, Galkayo and Bossasso and the suspects ordered some journalists not to report the threats on punishment of death. These journalists were confronted with various accusations, such as that they had disseminated false information, undermined security, waged war against the authorities or cooperated with terrorists. Media managers were also subjected to various pressures as well as political and financial inducements to conceal certain information.

Despite the assassination of Nasteh Dahir Farah, other union officials continued their activities in a tremendously tense climate out of dedication to the promotion and protection of rights and interests of journalists.

Four journalists, two in Garowe and two in Mogadishu, whose independent reporting did not find favor with Puntland authorities and officials of the Transitional Federal Government, were subjected to threats and severe hindrances to their journalistic tasks.

The media law that was passed in December 2007 was not fundamentally reviewed before it was implemented. The law introduced manifold restrictions aiming at controlling and paralysing the privately owned media. It also set strict conditions for registration and facilitates broad interference by the Ministry of Information in media matters.

Journalist Mohammed Shidane Daban, who was arrested in the Adan Adde International Airport in Mogadishu as he was leaving to travel abroad, was released after spending 115 days in detention.

The Transitional Federal Parliament of Somalia publicly condemned, on 24 July 2008, attacks against journalists and humanitarian aid workers. The Parliament demanded the government investigate attacks against media and aid workers and punish the perpetrators.

Journalists disseminating information about leadership wrangles in Puntland were violently repressed. A renowned woman journalist was frequently threatened. Since the start of this year, 11 journalists fled from their homes, six from Kismayu and five from Puntland.

There was no significant progress in safeguarding press freedom in Somalia in the first half of 2008. Journalists are still widely vulnerable to reprisals. There is also a price to pay for reporting independently and without censorship. Media professionals are systematically exposed to physical attacks. Most serious crimes against journalists are not prosecuted and brought to trial, as in the cases of murdered journalists Hassan Kafi and Nasteh Dahir.

Overall, the past six months of the year was marked by an upsurge in attacks on freedom of the press and the safety of journalists, in spite of the lower number of journalists killed.

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