SOMALI REPUBLIC: Somalia: Urgent need for protection of journalists

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10 Oct 2007
Topic: Regional conflict
Journalists in Mogadishu and other parts of Southern Somalia are at higher risk of violence this year on account of their reporting than ever before. So far, seven media workers have been killed with impunity; four have been shot and wounded; several have been detained for short periods; and over 30 have tried to flee the country to seek refuge in Kenya.
Several media offices -- particularly the HornAfrik media network of eight radio stations, TV channel and website, which has lost five staff in recent years -- have been shut down for some periods by various authorities or been violently attacked.

These intensifying abuses and reprisals indicate a disturbing pattern of violations of the right to freedom of expression and the media, as recognized in international and regional human rights standards and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Charter.

Amnesty International is calling on the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to conduct prompt, effective and impartial investigations into these criminal acts of killing or threats of violence against journalists and to bring those responsible to justice.

All parties to the conflict should make public declarations of commitment to protect media freedom and the legitimate rights of journalists, who are now a high-risk group alongside other human rights defenders in the present conflict. Clan elders should support such investigations and declarations without partiality towards perpetrators and as steps towards establishing the rule of law and justice for all citizens.

In addition, Amnesty International calls for:

Special protective measures by the authorities to stop violence, threats and harassment targeted against media workers on account of their journalistic work.
The Kenya Government to lift its eight-month border closure to asylum seekers from Somalia in order to allow journalists and other civilians at risk to seek protection.
An urgent "press freedom initiative" from the international community -- UN agencies, international organizations and non-governmental organizations -- to prevent further violence, including close monitoring and advocacy and solidarity visits.

This appeal by Amnesty International is prompted by new death threats from unidentified quarters against officials of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). Just yesterday, Shabelle Radio’s website said that its reporter Abdirizak Warsame had been arrested, beaten and robbed at a police checkpoint after identifying himself as a journalist.

Three journalists killed in the past month have been named as:

Abdulkadir Mahad Moallin (known as "Kaskey") of Radio Banadir, killed on 24 August Mahad Ahmed Elmi of Capital Voice radio, shot dead on 11 August Ali Iman Sharmarke, head of HornAfrik media, killed by a car bomb on 11 August

The perpetrators of attacks on journalists in 2007 have not been identified and the TFG police have made no arrests. Even amid the conflicts of 2006-7, journalists of the vigorous private media have worked openly, held training workshops or received international training to improve their professional standards of work. They have sought actively to protect their impartiality and safety and tried to obtain support from the authorities for their professional work.

Most attacks on journalists were targeted but Abdulkadir Mahad Moallin "Kaskey", aged 20, was killed as a result of the general lawlessness randomly affecting thousands of civilians, when bandits attacked a bus in which he was travelling from Mogadishu after a training workshop to his home region of Gedo.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been trying to establish its authority in Mogadishu and other regions since Ethiopian forces supporting it defeated the Council of Somali Islamic Courts (COSIC) forces in December 2006. Yet there is still ongoing armed conflict in parts of Mogadishu, where the TFG security forces and Ethiopian army face attacks by remnants of the Islamic Courts’ forces linked to sub-clan-based groups. A National Reconciliation Congress in Mogadishu has now ended after six weeks of meetings. The 2,000-delegate Congress, boycotted by exiled opposition groups who are now meeting in Eritrea and oppose Ethiopia’s military presence in Somalia, was unable to achieve a political consensus for peace or for reinvigoration of the transitional process, which is half-way through the five-year period. According to the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 18,000 civilians fled from violence in Mogadishu in August.

Civilians have become more, rather than less, endangered by a new phase of the conflict which is apparently targeting individuals including journalists, as well as human rights defenders and civil society activists. Previously during the worst of this year’s fighting, hundreds or more civilians were killed in March/April as a result of arbitrary and indiscriminate firing by Ethiopian forces in response to opposition attacks from within civilian areas. Their opponents also failed to take measures to protect civilians, as well as assassinating civilian officials and executing several captured combatants. TFG forces committed abuses against civilians, including arbitrary detentions, and obstructed humanitarian aid. Violations of international humanitarian law ("war crimes") were committed by all sides.

AI Index:AFR 52/015/2007
7 September 2007

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