Accessibility links

Breaking News

Proposed Rules for Journalists in Somalia Called 'Draconian'

The Paris-based media-rights organization Reporters Without Borders is condemning a set of what it calls "draconian" rules being proposed by Islamist leaders in Somalia to control the press.

The list of 13 rules of conduct for journalists came out Sunday, after the head of the Islamic court's judicial administration, Sheik Hassan Osman, summoned representatives of all privately owned media in Islamist-held areas of Somalia.

The proposed rules forbid journalists from, among other things, reporting information deemed contrary to Islam and from participating in foreign-sponsored seminars or programs without the permission of the Islamic courts' information bureau.

Another rule states that the media may not use terms which, in the words of the courts, "infidels use to refer to Muslims such as terrorists, extremists, etc."

The director of the Africa Desk for Reporters Without Borders, Leonard Vincent, tells VOA that although most of the rules are aimed at limiting freedom of the press, he finds one of the rules particularly troublesome.

"The second one says that the media must not disseminate information likely to create conflict between the population and the Islamic courts," he said. "What does that mean? That means any information that would be negative for the image that the Islamic courts have of themselves will be considered a crime. I mean, it is impossible to exercise journalism in these conditions. They believe that they are going to restore peace and justice in Somalia. But, in fact, they are going to just plunge Somalia into a blackout of information and into obscurity."

Vincent says it is not clear what type of punishment the Islamic courts would mete out for journalists who disobey the rules. But he says he believes the penalties would be harsh.

"What we have seen of their attitude toward journalists is whenever a journalist has been embarrassing them, they have been arrested. Some of them have been brutalized. Radio stations have been closed," ," Vincent said.

The Islamists seized Mogadishu in early June from factional leaders after months of bloody battles. Since then, they have rapidly expanded their influence to include most of southern and central Somalia.

Several senior Islamist leaders have been accused of having ties to al-Qaida and their efforts to impose strict Islamic laws, called sharia, have fueled fears that the country could become a fundamentalist theocracy like Afghanistan under the Taleban regime.

Somali journalists tell VOA that they intend to voice their grievances about the new rules at their next meeting with Islamist representatives, scheduled for October 15.