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Report says Conditions for Somali Journalists Deteriorating

A new Amnesty International report describes Somalia as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. The report says the threat to journalists in the war-torn country is now the worst it has been since the Siad Barre government was overthrown in 1991. Tendai Maphosa has the details in this report for VOA from London.

At least nine journalists have been killed since February 2007, more have been threatened, arrested and harassed and more than 50 have been forced to flee Somalia, the Amnesty International report says. Radio stations and other media outlets have been repeatedly closed.

The attacks on journalists and the media, Amnesty concludes, indicate a systematic attempt to curtail independent journalism.

Fighting between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government, called the TFG, and Islamic insurgents is blamed for the ongoing insecurity. The TFG and the Ethiopians ousted the Islamic Courts from power at the end of 2006. Amnesty spokesperson Michelle Kagari said all parties are to blame for the worsening plight of journalists and ordinary Somalis.

"Violations against human rights and violations against international humanitarian law are being committed by all parties to the conflict so the Ethiopian troops linked to the TFG and armed opposition groups," said Kagari.

The attacks, Amnesty says, mark a disturbing reversal from 2005 and 2006, when the media began extending news coverage beyond clan and warlord loyalties.

The Transitional Federal Parliament passed a media law in December 2007. Though it provides an overly broad and ill-defined framework that could ultimately subject all media to a series of confusing constraints, it does offer some positive features.

"The new Media Act is a marginal improvement on the rule by decree, we still have some concerns about that especially with regards to freedom of expression and the independence of journalists for example, the new media act says that the journalists must support the Somali state and culture, they need to be licensed, no government has the right to start dictating based on its own terms the context with which they should be doing their work; that is a violation of international law," explained Amnesty spokesperson Kagari.

The draft law also would require journalists to promote such state interests as Islam, justice and democracy. It would also require the establishment of regulatory Media Council with a majority of members elected from private media outlets.

On Sunday, news reports said that Somalia government soldiers raided three independent radio stations in the capital Mogadishu. The soldiers reportedly forced the stations off the air, arrested a journalist and seized equipment.

But a government official told VOA that the government did not order the closure of the radio stations. Minister of Information Ahmed Abdi Salam, a former co-founder and director of programming for Horn Afrik, said some insurgents who were wearing government uniforms went into different businesses, including some of these stations and took some equipment. He said the stations were forced to close because some of their equipment was stolen by looters.