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Martial law could lead to free expression abuses, says NUSOJ

Somalia's parliament has voted to declare three months of martial law, which could lead to more restrictions on free expression, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) warns.

On 19 August, the Transitional Federal Parliament of Somalia voted overwhelmingly to impose martial law to restore order in the conflict-ridden country, say NUSOJ and the Shabelle Media Network in Mogadishu.

The declaration will allow President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to issue decrees on matters of national security.

But NUSOJ is worried that free expression abuses at the hands of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) might ramp up, as they did when martial law was imposed in 2007. Back then, the rules included a ban on "spreading propaganda," interviewing government opponents or reporting on issues of national security, and holding unlawful demonstrations.

"We witnessed several abuses, such as detention of journalists, torture of reporters, arbitrary arrests, closure of media houses and censorship, committed by TFG forces and officials when martial law was imposed in 2007," said NUSOJ secretary general Omar Faruk Osman.

The continuing conflict has made Somalia the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa, and one of the most dangerous in the world. Freelance Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan have been held in captivity for one year in an undisclosed location in Somalia since their abduction by an armed group last August.

According to a UN report released this week, persistent violence and a prolonged drought have plunged Somalia into its worst humanitarian crisis since civil war broke out nearly two decades ago, with an estimated 3.76 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

An anti-government onslaught by Islamist militants earlier this year has deepened that humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of civilians killed and tens of thousands displaced. The increased fighting, mainly in central and eastern Somalia - areas largely inaccessible to aid workers - is also recording the greatest problems of food access and malnutrition, says the UN report.

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