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Puntland Crackdown Against Journalists Condemned

Puntland Crackdown Against Journalists Condemned

Puntland Crackdown Against Journalists Condemned

A Somali journalist union and international watchdog groups are denouncing the hostile conditions now facing members of the press in the Puntland region of Somalia. The head of a local radio station survived an assassination attempt on Saturday, and a journalist working for the VOA Somali Service continues to be held in detention following his arrest by authorities late Sunday.

The director of the local Radio Galkayo, Hassan Mohemed Jama, came under gunfire allegedly from a Puntland police officer at the city's airport. Two bullets reportedly flew through the fabric of his pants, but Jama escaped unharmed. The assailant was not arrested.

Mohamed Yasin Ishaq, who reports for the VOA Somali language news service, was arrested one day later by more than two-dozen armed men at his home in Galkayo. He has since been moved to the headquarters of the Puntland Intelligence Service in the semi-autonomous region's capital, Garowe.

The National Union of Somali Journalists issued separate statements condemning both incidents and expressed concern over the escalating crackdown on journalists in Puntland.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, an international partner to the Somali journalist organization, likewise finds the recent incidents parts of a troubling pattern. Ambroise Pierre, head of the Africa desk there, called for Ishaq to be immediately freed.

"We are asking the Puntland authorities to explain why they arrested this journalist," he said. "We ask them to release him, and we ask them to respect freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the VOA service in Puntland."

At the beginning of October, the VOA Somali Service was banned by Puntland authorities. The radio service has since been allowed to resume its broadcasts.

Ishaq was wounded through the shoulder in mid-November after being shot at three times by a police officer as he was driving through a police checkpoint. Ishaq claimed the incident followed a threat issued directly against him from a local police chief, but the police chief denies this and says that the journalist was attacked for speeding through the police stop.

In August, Ishaq was briefly detained by Puntland authorities after reporting on the murders of senior Puntland officials.

The intelligence service, which has its own team of armed forces and whose powers are reported to be growing, has not given an explanation for the detainment. But the latest attack and arrest of the VOA reporter follow the publication of his reports on the plight of displaced persons from southern Somalia.

According to reports, hundreds of IDPs who originally had re-located to Galkayo to escape the unstable situation in the South are now returning. They say their trek back south has been prompted by discrimination and mob violence amid suspicions that they sympathize with and support the activities of the radical Islamist militant group al-Shabab, believed to be al-Qaida-linked.

Al-Shabab controls most of southern and some of central Somalia, as well as a significant portion of the capital, Mogadishu. The rebel insurgents are trying to topple the Western-backed transition government.

Pierre says the self-governed regions of Puntland and Somaliland appear to offer little oasis for journalistic freedom, even compared to the rest of the volatile country.

"Somalia is the deadliest country for journalists in Africa, and somehow people can think that in Puntland and in Somaliland the situation is a little bit better than in southern Somalia," he said. In some ways it is, but it is easy for us to say that everywhere in Somalia now being a journalist is both dangerous and very difficult."

Nine journalists have died in Somalia this year.

The U.S. government issued a statement calling for Ishaq's immediate release and expressing concern over the current state of press freedoms in Puntland.