In Somalia, death threats force prominent press freedom activist into hiding

New York, September 4, 2007—A prominent press freedom activist and freelance journalist was forced into hiding on Monday after gunmen went looking for him at his office in the war-torn capital Mogadishu, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists.

Ali Moallim Isak, Organizing Secretary of the union and a correspondent of Baidoa-based private Radio Warsan, received several threatening phone calls that day ordering him to stop speaking out against attacks on journalists or be killed. The calls came just hours after two men armed with pistols entered the union’s offices, he told CPJ from an undisclosed location. Isak had been responsible for organizing journalism workshops and often spoke out on local stations about attacks against journalists, according to local reporters.   

The gunmen, thought to be Islamist fighters, arrived at the union’s offices while Isak was at a Mogadishu hospital presenting assistance funds from the International Federation of Journalists to wounded journalist Abdihakim Omar Jimale of public Radio Mogadishu, according to Abdulaye Haidar, the union’s secretary of labor.

Jimale was left for dead this month after seven men entered his home, shooting him twice in the chest and once in the arm. Local journalists believe Jimale was targeted because he had reported on the activities of Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi.
“The threats against Ali Moallim Isak are part of an appalling pattern of harassment and targeting of journalists in Somalia,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The Transitional Federal Government must send a clear signal by prosecuting those responsible for these outrageous attacks.”

Recently, both Somalia’s Ethiopian-backed government and suspected Islamist fighters have targeted the media over its coverage of their conflict. At least 30 journalists, most of them from prominent independent broadcasters HornAfrik and Capital Voice have fled Mogadishu in recent weeks following the assassinations of two station directors, the union reported Sunday.

Seven Somali journalists have been killed this year, making it the second deadliest country worldwide for journalists, after Iraq.