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SOMALI JOURNALIST FREED, TWO FOREIGN REPORTERS STILL BEING HELD

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and other IFEX members welcomed the release of a Somali journalist after 146 days in captivity, and call for the safe release of two foreign journalists who were kidnapped with him.

Photojournalist Abdifatah Elmi was working as a fixer and translator for Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan when they were kidnapped with their drivers, Mahad Isse and Marwali, while on their way to visit Elasha refugee camp in Afgoye, just outside of Mogadishu on 23 August 2008.

Elmi and the two drivers were freed on 15 January and are apparently in good health. According to NUSOJ, they were blindfolded, driven to Mogadishu's Bakara market in a four-wheel drive vehicle and released.

Lindhout and Brennan are still being held. Elmi told NUSOJ that he and the drivers were kept at a separate location from the foreigners and has no knowledge of where they are being held.

According to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), little has been heard from their kidnappers other than a ransom demand of US$2.5 million several months ago. CJFE is asking the Canadian government "to do everything in its power to work for the release of these journalists."

Foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in the Horn of Africa nation. Various IFEX members have been engaging in advocacy behind the scenes, trying to secure their release.

British reporter Colin Freeman of "The Sunday Telegraph" and Spanish freelance photographer Jose Cendon were released on 4 January after being kidnapped on 26 November 2008 while covering a story on piracy.

Currently Somalia is experiencing massive political change. Ethiopian forces have pulled out of the country, two years after they intervened to try to oust Islamists from Mogadishu. The government and moderate Islamists are continuing talks on power-sharing, while the UN has adopted a resolution agreeing in principle to a peacekeeping force in Somalia. At the moment all factions - whether they back the peace process with the government or not - seem to be working together.

"We call upon the transitional government, the alliance of re-liberation of Somalia and traditional elders to make use of the current political change in the country to secure the safe release of Amanda and Nigel. We demand their immediate release," NUSOJ said.

Visit these links:
- NUSOJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99915
- CJFE: http://www.cjfe.org/releases/2009/16012009somalia.html
- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/9mo926
- Reporters Without Borders: http://tinyurl.com/9aod9n
(21 January 2009)

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