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Somalia: Journalists face deliberate and systematic attack

The threat to journalists in Somalia trying to report on the continuing conflict is now the worst it has been since the overthrow of the Siad Barre government in 1991 said Amnesty International today.

Revealing the extent of the repression, Michelle Kagari, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme, said:
“The killings, arrests and death threats targeting Somali journalists are not just another unfortunate by-product of the conflict and general insecurity in Somalia – they are a deliberate and systematic attempt by all parties to the conflict to stem the flow of information out of the country.”

Since February 2007, nine Somali journalists have been killed. Death threats and arrests have forced at least 50 journalists to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

Journalists who fled Mogadishu to neighbouring countries have told Amnesty International that they regularly receive death threats when they report on casualties suffered by any parties to the conflict.

Kagari continued:
“Journalists are threatened with death, enforced disappearance or arrest if they do not remove their stories from the Internet – a crude and brutal attack on their right to freedom of expression.”

Two journalists told Amnesty International that they received threats personally from Ethiopian diplomatic representatives in Mogadishu while other journalists said that they received repeated threats from armed groups fighting the TFG and Ethiopian forces.

One journalist told Amnesty International: “I wrote a story that two insurgents were killed. I was called on my mobile, and the caller said, “Why did you write that?” I said, “It is the truth. I have to write it.” He said, “You are going on the list of those we will kill.

Other journalists have been arrested multiple times by TFG forces or the Ethiopian military. Many identified their captors as members of the NSA, headed by General Mohamed Aden, known as General “Darwish”. They were usually detained after having conducted interviews or filed stories about the conflict -- particularly interviews with government opponents.

Some told Amnesty International that while they were being questioned, NSA officers openly discussed amongst themselves whether or not they should kill the journalist.

Michelle Kagari continued:
“Somali journalists are struggling to do their jobs in one of the most dangerous and difficult climates imaginable. The attacks and threats they are being subjected to on a daily basis are a deliberate attempt to silence the most important voices revealing human rights violations by all parties to the conflict in Somalia. These voices must be protected.”

Amnesty International called on all governments to provide refuge to Somali journalists forced to flee Somalia, and not to force any journalist to return to the country.

Attacks on the media in Somalia mark a retrograde step in the development of freedom of expression in the country. In 2005 and 2006, new radio and television stations, newspapers and websites opened – their coverage and affiliation had begun to extend beyond clan and warlord loyalties.

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