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Journalists, Human Rights Groups Condemn New Somali Curbs on Reporting

Somali journalists and human rights groups have condemned new regulations introduced by the mayor of Mogadishu severely restricting independent reporting in Somalia. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, arrests, detentions, assassinations, and death threats against journalists in the capital have prompted dozens to flee the country in recent months.

Mogadishu's mayor, Mohamed Dheere, has unveiled new rules to prohibit, among other things, reporting on the military operations of government and Ethiopian forces without prior government approval, as well as interviewing opposition members in Somalia or outside the country.

One Somali opposition group, led by Islamists who ruled much of southern and central Somalia for six months before being ousted last December, is based in Eritrea's capital Asmara. Another opposition group, an organization of radical young fighters called the Shabbab, is in Mogadishu, waging a ferocious Iraq-style guerrilla war against the government and its Ethiopian allies.

The mayor says any journalist who publishes or airs opposition views will be considered a criminal.

Journalists are also forbidden to disseminate news about the displacement of civilians from Mogadishu unless they first provide the government with statistical proof.

The Mogadishu-based Somali Human Rights Defenders Network released a statement Tuesday, calling the mayor's new rules unconstitutional and a violation of human rights.

The group said it is deeply concerned about what it termed the escalating oppression of the free media in Somalia by officials of the internationally-recognized transitional federal government. The interim government came to power nearly a year ago with the military help of neighboring Ethiopia and the backing of the United States.

Since January, at least seven Somali journalists have been killed in apparent targeted assassinations. It is still not clear who was responsible for the killings. Somali journalists have reported receiving threats from radical insurgents, interim government officials and Ethiopian troops.

Many have fled to neighboring countries, with a large majority settling in Kenya. Afraid they may not be able to return to Somalia any time soon, some journalists are seeking asylum in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The head of the National Union of Somali Journalists, Omar Faruk Osman, says he has appealed to the new Somali interim Prime Minister Nur Adde Hassan Hussein to re-open the offices of independent newspapers and several radio stations in the capital that have been shut down by the government in recent weeks.

"People in Mogadishu today, they have no radio to listen. They have no newspaper to read," he said. "The transitional federal government has proclaimed in the transitional federal charter, the interim constitution of Somalia, [it would] protect the human rights of its citizens, including journalists and to protect the freedom of expression and freedom of press. We plead with the new prime minister to do his best to take action and end the on-going violations."

Somali lawmakers in the town of Baidoa, where parliament meets, are said to be debating whether to turn Mayor Mohamed Dheere's regulations into the country's new media law.