SOMALIA: Government harassing the media, warns HRW
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Somali transitional government of systematically harassing journalists and failing to protect the fledgling independent media in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country.
"The violent attacks on Somalia's journalists threaten their courageous reporting on the crisis in Mogadishu," Peter Takirambudde, HRW Africa director said on 22 October. "The Somali government must condemn and investigate these attacks as well as cease its own harassment of the media."
The closure of media houses and failure to investigate the killing of eight journalists has also damaged independent reporting in Somalia, the human rights watchdog added.
Somali minister of information Madobe Nuunow Mohamed downplayed the criticism, saying the difficulties faced by journalists were common to all prominent Somalis, and caused by general insecurity.
"We fully support a free and vibrant private media," the minister told IRIN on 24 October. "There is no policy of harassment of the media. Our charter [interim constitution] guarantees free media and freedom of expression."
However, he added: "We have closed from time to time certain media houses, and only for a short period, but always to preserve the security of the larger public."
In the latest attack on journalists on 19 October, Bashir Nur Gedi acting manager of Shabelle Media was shot dead by unknown gunmen, bringing the total number of reporters killed in Somalia in 2007 to eight.
On 11 August, Ali Iman Sharmarke, managing director of HornAfrik Radio, was killed when his car hit a remote-controlled explosive device. He was driving from the funeral of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a popular talk show host, who had been shot by unknown assailants earlier the same day in Mogadishu.
HRW said Somali government officials had consistently failed to condemn the killings, much less investigate, arrest, or prosecute anyone in connection with them.
But Mohammed said the killings were "the work of elements who are opposed to the restoration of peace and stability" in Somalia. The government, he added, was investigating and would make sure the perpetrators were brought to justice.
A civil society source in Mogadishu hailed the bravery of Somali media workers. "The plight of thousands of civilians caught up in continuing violence would never have been known if it were not for the brave journalists who sometimes risked their lives to tell their stories," he said.
He said the continuation of killings, arrests and closures of media houses would make the dire humanitarian situation "disappear". "The world knows about the suffering of the displaced because of Somali journalists."
Since the end of December 2006, when the Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces took over from the Union of Islamic Courts, more than 1,000 people have been killed and 400,000 displaced by violence in Mogadishu.