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Recent Slaying Highlights Dangers Faced by Journalists in Somalia


Paris-based press-freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, says Somalia is the deadliest place to be a journalist in Africa and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. The group's comments follow the shooting death of the eighth journalist killed this year in the besieged capital, Mogadishu. Sarah Simpson reports from VOA's East Africa Bureau in Nairobi that many Somali journalists are fleeing the country entirely.

Reporters Without Borders' Head of Africa Division, Leonard Vincent, says violence against journalists is more serious now than it has ever been in Somalia and the situation is rapidly getting worse.

"Clearly 2007 is one of the worst years in Somalia for the press," he said. "In Africa, Somalia is the deadliest country this year for journalists. Of course the situation is really deteriorating - and it is deteriorating because nobody is doing anything."

Vincent wants the international community to intervene to protect freedom of the press in Somalia, where reporters are regularly targeted by all sides of a long-running conflict.

Somalia's ruling Islamist movement was toppled in December by the country's secular interim government with military assistance from Ethiopia. Since then, the interim government has faced a bloody Iraq-style insurgency by Islamist groups bent on returning Somalia to an islamist state.

Journalists are caught in the middle, says Vincent.

"You are caught in the cross-fire of arbitrary arrests on one side and violence - blind violence - and targeted assassinations on the other," he said. "Most of the journalists I know from Mogadishu are either in hiding or trying to flee the city."

In the latest fatal attack, leading radio journalist Bashir Nor Gedi, Director of Shabelle Radio, was gunned down Friday outside his home in Mogadishu.

Also on Friday, security forces in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland arrested three journalists and closed Radio Garowe. Though all were later released, one of the detainees, Abdi Fazah, Director of Radio Garowe, told VOA he fears he will be killed.

"Before they released us they said 'If you do like this you will be ... they will take us like action on the journalists in Mogadishu,'" he said.

Many journalists have left Somalia to take exile in other countries in the region. Somali reporter, Abdiaziz Hassan, now in exile in Kenya, says it is never clear which group might take offense to a report, or from where the threat might come.

"At the end of the day, if I reported any issue - whether it is about the government, whether it is about the insurgency, whether it is about another other political stakeholder in Somalia - I may be targeted," he said. "That is [what] forced me to leave from Somalia to any other place I can feel safe."

International media have also come under attack in Mogadishu. Gunmen shot and killed a Swedish cameraman filming a demonstration in June.

A state of anarchy has raged in Somalia since 1991, following the ousting of former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. In the midst of years of chaos, observers say the press has long remained vibrant despite harassment, beatings, imprisonment and increasingly, death.

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