In Somalia, government troops arrest journalist and driver, seize truck

New York, March 21, 2007— Somali government troops today arrested a reporter and a driver of a leading independent broadcaster in the capital Mogadishu as they arrived to cover an official press conference at the city’s airport, according to local journalists and the National Union of Somali Journalists.

Shabelle Radio reporter Mohammed Bashir and driver Osman Qoryoley were arrested at the airport after being invited by Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi’s office to attend his press conference there that was later cancelled, according to local sources. The station’s vehicle was confiscated and used to carry government soldiers, they said.

Bashir and Qoryoley were still detained at a police station in Mogadishu late today, Program Director Mohamed Amiin Adow told CPJ.

“It is outrageous that a reporter invited to cover a press conference by the prime minister should be arrested and his vehicle seized by government troops,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are concerned that the government is increasingly showing blatant contempt for the right of journalists to report the news. The authorities must release our colleague Mohammed Bashir and Osman Qoryoley immediately and return their vehicle.”

Informed of the arrest by Shabelle earlier today, the prime minister’s office said it would discuss the matter with the transitional government’s National Security Agency, Amiin said. “All senior government officials at the airport told me they were not aware that reporters were arrested by government soldiers,” said Shabelle Radio Director Shukri Sheikh Ali in a news report by the station.

At least seven people were killed today in the heaviest fighting between government forces backed by Ethiopian troops and armed insurgents since the ousting of Islamists from the capital late last year, according to international news reports.

Reporting at Mogadishu’s airport has become dangerous for journalists in recent weeks. On March 15, a security official forced several journalists out of the airport after threatening to shoot them if they returned, local journalists told CPJ. Three days later, reporter Hassan Sade Dhaqane of private HornAfrik Radio, arrested while reporting near the airport,, was released from government custody after nine days of detention without charge.

Dhaqane was one of five journalists imprisoned, harassed or attacked by government forces and their Ethiopian allies while reporting on the security situation in Mogadishu last week, according to CPJ research. The government disliked the media’s coverage of civilian casualties resulting from the conflict, local journalists told CPJ. “It is becoming increasingly dangerous to exercise our profession in good faith,” Amiin said.