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Somalia Journalists Under Threat


Many journalists in Somalia are leaving the country because of the increasing threat of violence from Islamic militias and the country's weak transitional government. As Nick Wadhams reports from the VOA office in Nairobi, many of the reporters are relocating to Kenya.

The human-rights group Amnesty International says Somalia has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work. This year, seven have been killed, four were shot and wounded, and several have been detained.

Amnesty says that several radio stations, including the popular HornAfrik media network, have been shut down by the authorities or attacked for their stories. The situation has gotten so bad that more than 30 journalists have fled to Kenya to protect themselves.

The Horn of Africa researcher for Amnesty, Martin Hill, says the transitional federal government, known as the TFG, has been unable to stem the violence even though it is supported by Ethiopian troops who invaded in December.

"This is partly the product of a situation of absence of rule of law," said Hill. "There is a new TFG police force, but with very weak capacity and there is a conflict raging in parts of Mogadishu between TFG forces supported by Ethiopian troops and those who are opposed to it."

The most shocking of the violence occurred early last month, when two HornAfrik reporters were killed on the same day. The first was shot in the head as he went to work and the second died in a roadside bombing as he returned from the funeral.

And just a couple of weeks ago, a new governor in central Somalia ordered HornAfrik to stop its work in his area and arrested two reporters. There have also been death threats and jailings of several other reporters.

Amnesty argues the continuing violence clearly violates the rights to free expression spelled out in the transitional government's charter. Hill says it is unclear who's responsible, though he does not suspect the transitional government.

"The assailants have not been identified," said Hill. "In general, though the government has had criticisms and actions against journalists, this has usually been resolved after negotiations in a day or two, so it is difficult to know who has been responsible or whether it is all by some opposition groups when the media criticize one or the other."

Soon after Amnesty released its statement, the International PEN society, a worldwide association of writers, issued its own plea for an end to the violence against journalists in Somalia.

It condemned what it says is a "new wave" of attacks, killings and arrests. One journalist was beaten severely last week as he walked home from work.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. A loose coalition of Islamic groups known as the Islamic Courts Union restored some order last year but the Islamists were ousted when Ethiopian troops invaded in December, 2006.

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