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National Union Condemns Assaults Against Somali Journalists

The National Union of Somali Journalists has condemned recent assaults of press members by officials with the transitional government. Meanwhile, the foreign minister says his government respects press freedom in Somalia. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Three journalists working for the independent radio station Shabelle Media Network were assaulted Monday while investigating reports that Ethiopian troops were vacating the building where the former Ministry of Defense was located in Mogadishu.

A member of the union, who declined to be named, describes what happened to his colleagues when they entered the building.

"They were asked some questions," he said. "They were asked why they entered the building, and they were punished for not having permission to come in. They were only tortured. They were made to stand in the sunshine for about three hours and they were kick-boxed and they were clubbed, something like that."

The union also says a journalist with Shabelle Radio was beaten Sunday in a Mogadishu neighborhood by the armed forces of the transitional government.

And the union says last Friday government forces arrested a reporter with Horn Afrik Radio who was filing live coverage of a volatile situation in the capital. The union says he is still being held at an unknown location.

The union member tells VOA that journalists in Somalia are afraid of the government and are not able to express themselves freely for fear of serious reprisals.

But Somali Minister of Foreign Affairs Esmael Mohamud Hurreh disagrees. Hurreh says he is not familiar with the particular incidents outlined by the union, but he says his government respects press freedom.

"Tempers could be high and people could be jittery about these things, but in general, our position on the press is that the press is free, it should have access to every place, and the government officials, whether they are security people or ministers or functionaries in ministries, cooperate with the press," he said.

In its 2007 report, the international press watchdog Reporters Without Borders expressed its concern about conditions for Somali journalists.

The report says that 2006 was, in its words, "one of the most violent years for the press for a long time", with many journalists being beaten up by both the transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union.

The report says about 30 journalists were arrested by both sides last year.