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UN Focuses On Persecution Of Somalia Journalists

By Derek Kilner

UN Marks Human Rights Day With Focus on Persecution of Somalia Journalists

The United Nations marked the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Nairobi by highlighting the persecution of journalists in Somalia.

A panel of U.N. officials and human rights advocates addressed an audience in the Kenyan capital, where numerous Somali journalists have fled in the past year.

Eight journalists have been killed in Somalia this year. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, only Iraq is more dangerous for journalists.

Since January, Ethiopian troops backing the transitional Somali government have been facing an increasingly violent Islamist-led insurgency in the capital Mogadishu. The fighting has displaced more than one million people, including 600,000 in the capital.

The speakers at Monday's event emphasized that Somalia's journalists are facing threats from all parties in the conflict, though the transitional government and its Ethiopian backers often received the most criticism.

"All sides in the conflict qualify as fierce enemies of the media, and they do not tolerate independent reporting, detailed examination and criticism of their activities and performance," said Omar Faruk, Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists. "These desperate groups wanted to manipulate media and to shape public opinion and when the media resists, they commit these crimes."

Over the weekend, Somalia's parliament approved a new law regulating the media. Faruk was hopeful that the new legislation would provide increased protection for journalists, but said that his organization had not yet seen the law.

The East Africa campaigner for Amnesty International, Dave Copeman, said the organization has catalogued a number of abuses by government and insurgents that will be included in an upcoming report on conditions for Journalists in Somalia.

"Journalists in Somalia have told Amnesty International they face death threats on an almost daily basis, particularly when they are reporting on conflict or military operations or if they mention casualties that have been suffered by either side to the conflict," said Copeman. "Many receive threats from individuals who identified themselves as officers of the National Security Agency of the Transitional Federal Government demanding to know why they had spoken about particular incidents of conflict or military operations, and threatening them with enforced disappearances or arrest if these stories remained on the web."

Private radio stations, the most popular source of news in Somalia, have borne the brunt of attacks and have repeatedly been closed by the government. In the most recent episode, three major stations were shut in mid-November, before being allowed to resume broadcasting last week.

Several of the speakers also expressed concern with a threat by the government of Somaliland to expel 24 journalists that have been seeking refuge in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, after fleeing Mogadishu.

The event marked the beginning of a year-long U.N. effort to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


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