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CAPSULE REPORT: Life and livelihood of journalists in danger, says NUSOJ Annual Report

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - The following is 28 December 2008 NUSOJ press release:

2008 Annual Report of Press Freedom Violations in Somalia
SOMALIA: A Precarious and Perilous Place for the Press

In 2008, the life and livelihood of Somali journalists were in danger and attacks to kill, hurt, harass and silence journalists were persistent throughout the year, according to the Annual Report of Press Freedom Violations in Somalia by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

A wave of violence against journalists and media rights violations were again appallingly brutal in all regions of the country. This year's annual report reveals virulent attacks on journalists including unspeakable cases of killings, arrests, injuries, ill-treatments, abduction and death threats as well as serious, sophisticated and systematic harassment and intimidation in main cities, particularly Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidoa, Bossasso, Galkayo and Hargeisa. Privately-owned media houses are also severely repressed.

NUSOJ monitored, recorded and reported on numerous cases of attacks against media professionals and news media organisations, and its annual report depicts the enormity of the challenges and dangers before the journalists and the media community as whole. The year 2008 saw very little easing of the ruinous conflict in many regions of the country. It has been another dreadful year with repression against the media in Somalia among the worst on the African continent.

NUSOJ's 2008 Annual Report, which is titled SOMALIA: A Precarious and Perilous Place for the Press ( http://www.nusoj.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/2008-nusoj-annual-report.pdf ), states that freedom of the media remains at the mercy of the Transitional Government (TFG), Islamic insurgents, the Puntland Administration and Somaliland authorities who have frequently shown their antagonism to independent journalism.

Across Somalia, violence, attacks, impunity and injustice against journalists and media remain widespread and systematic, and involve a variety of perpetrators. All perpetrators of crimes against journalists continue to evade justice, according to the report.

"Journalists were deliberately targeted as they tried to report on the plight of the people, to independently inform the public on current issues and expose serious human rights violations. Journalists and media houses that are vocal and critical of the warring sides in an independent and professional manner are constantly targeted," said NUSOJ Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman in the report.

The NUSOJ Annual Report also documents a number of disturbing trends that became increasingly apparent in 2008. Oppressive practices against journalists intensified and diversified again this year. Killings and other threats to journalists and media freedom have been very serious. Even though there was a decrease in killings of journalists in Somalia compared to 2007, there were many failed attempts to kill journalists.

The report also states that southern Somalia remains the most dangerous area for independent journalism in 2008, with assassinations, abductions, death threats and assaults in a number of regions. Two (2) journalists were murdered with complete impunity in Kismayo. The murder of NUSOJ Vice President Nasteh Dahir Farah shocked journalists and the wider Somali society and caused dreadful grief to his family and colleagues.

According to the Annual Report, the situation was no better in Puntland, the northeast regions of Somalia, as the administration prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections. The deteriorating security situation in Bossasso, Galkayo and Garowe has made intimidation, harassment and violence an everyday reality for media professionals working in Puntland. Some Puntland ministers regard journalists as an irritation.

"Somaliland is one of the most egregious violators of press freedom as journalists have also come under attack in its bid to secure international recognition for its self-declared independence from Somalia. Harassment against independent journalists is continuing in Hargeisa, Barbara and Borame," Omar Faruk added.

The Annual Report details nearly thirty (30) journalists and media staff that were arrested and all but one released without trial. More than 30 journalists received death threats. In many cases threats have been carried out by gangsters, apparently acting with the consent of politicians.

Insurgent forces placed restrictions on the activities of journalists, telling them their lives would be at risk if they covered anything they do not want reported. Thus many important stories about insurgent activities in the country remain un-investigated and go unreported by the media.

Since Islamic insurgents took over several towns in south-central regions of the country, at least six journalists have fled to Kenya from Kismayo in fear for their lives. They received death threats after being labelled as collaborators with the previous pro-TFG administration. Apart from death threats, media in Gedo and the lower Jubba regions were banned from broadcasting music or songs, saying it was prohibited by the "Islamic religion".

Despite optimism that the government of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein would lead to an improvement in respect for the right to freedom of expression, the situation continued to worsen in almost all categories of press freedom. Journalists in Baidoa, Mogadishu and Kismayo who voice concern or criticize the government and insurgent forces are intimidated into silence, killed, arrested or forced into self-censorship. This makes journalists completely incapable of seeking out and exposing the truth.

The increasingly vociferous war of words between the two factions of the Alliance of Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) increased the danger for journalists. Media professionals live in constant fear of being killed for reporting on the ARS's continuing internal crisis and over who to refer to as the legitimate leadership of the group.

The report also finds that the media community continues to be a casualty of a merciless war. Violations of the social and economic rights of journalists undermine their rights to the enjoyment of just and favourable work conditions. The war that escalated in December 2006 in southern Somalia also worsened living conditions for journalists as media houses are not able to pay salaries since they hardly create income.

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. The law imposed draconian restrictions on the right to media freedom and freedom of expression, and put the composition, operations and independence of the National Media Council firmly under government control.

NUSOJ's Annual Report said some media houses restricted the ability of journalists to provide independent, fair, balanced and honest news and information. The editorial pressure on journalists forces some of them to twist, hype and report things they know are false because their media owner(s) wants it that way.

Please click on this link to read the 2008 Annual Report of Press Freedom Violations in Somalia: http://www.nusoj.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/2008-nusoj-annual-report.pdf

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