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Journalists: Somali Army Should Recognize Media Rights

The National Union of Somali Journalists is calling for Somalia's transitional government to train its armed forces not to violate media freedom. The call followed a national conference on media freedom and the arrest of a radio journalist and his driver. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The head of the Somali journalists' union, Omar Faruk Osman, tells VOA he believes that ministers and members of Somalia's transitional government themselves are sensitive about, and committed to, media freedom.

But he says the Somali armed forces, many of whom were former fighters in clan and sub-clan-based militias, do not understand media freedom and believe that journalists are spies or are out to cause trouble for the government.

"They are quite hostile to the journalists and media workers," he said. "They are the ones who detain and arrest journalists indiscriminately. They take them to detention centers or police stations and they hold them for hours and days and release them without charge."

Osman was reacting to the arrests of a journalist for a private station, Radio Shabelle, as he and his driver were on their way to a news conference being given by the prime minister. A member of a force loyal to the transitional government reportedly beat the journalist.

Osman urges the government to train its troops on media freedom issues.

"Please, talk to or instruct your officers not to violate rights of journalists and to avoid doing such violations which are against press freedom, values and principles that the transitional government committed itself [to]," he added.

But the head of the Africa desk of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Leonard Vincent, says the arrests follow a pattern that shows that the government is not committed to media freedom and feels threatened by Radio Shabelle and other media.

"As you know, Horn Afrik, Al-Jazeera, Radio Shabelle and Radio Koran are often seen by the government as more mouthpieces for the opposition, rather than independent media or even media that have a different opinion," he explained.

The arrests follow a three-day national conference on media policy development held in the town of Baidoa.

The union says that the conference led to a blueprint for legislation in line with international standards that would guarantee freedom of expression and rights for the media in Somalia.

An 11-member team is charged with implementing the conference's key recommendations.