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SOLDIER GUNS DOWN JOURNALIST; NUSOJ REPORT DETAILS VIOLENCE

A radio reporter from Somalia is the first journalist in 2009 to be killed in the line of duty, report the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and other IFEX members.

On 1 January, Hassan Mayow Hassan, a reporter for Radio Shabelle, was gunned down by a member of a pro-government militia in Afgoye, 30 kilometres south of Mogadishu.

Hassan and other journalists were on their way to cover clashes between armed groups when he was shot by a soldier, even though he identified himself as a journalist, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Hassan had produced critical stories about the army's harassment of civilians in the area.

NUSOJ says the killing "calls national and international attention to the dangers Somali journalists face in operating the country's long-standing, bloodthirsty and brutal conflict, and the critical need to act swiftly to protect journalists."

Hassan's murder comes just a few days after journalists staged a demonstration in Mogadishu to demand an end to violence against media personnel, says RSF. Somalia is Africa's deadliest country for the news media. According to CPJ, 10 Somali journalists have been killed in the past two years, two from Radio Shabelle.

In a separate development, NUSOJ reports the release on 4 January of British reporter Colin Freeman of "The Sunday Telegraph" and Spanish freelance photographer Jose Cendon, who were kidnapped on 26 November while covering a story on piracy.

Foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in the Horn of Africa nation. Two freelance journalists, an Australian and a Canadian, kidnapped near Mogadishu in August are still being held.

Journalists in Somalia are working under extreme duress as the conflict between the transitional government and insurgent groups continues. Thousands of civilians caught up in the conflict have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee.

Islamist and nationalist insurgents have vowed to overthrow what remains of the government, whose President resigned last month. Ethiopia's army began pulling its 3,000-strong force out last week, after two years of helping the transitional government oust insurgents from Mogadishu. Critics say the move raises the prospect of a possible power vacuum in the capital, where there has not been a functioning central government since 1991.

Press freedom violations under these conditions are detailed in NUSOJ's annual report, "Somalia: A Precarious and Perilous Place for the Press": http://tinyurl.com/7gwu3o

Visit these links:
- NUSOJ: http://tinyurl.com/85wrgo
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/88ae26
- IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/7tch69
- RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99582/
- BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7803564.stm
(7 January 2009)

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