French journalist kidnapped in Puntland

New York, December 18, 2007—CPJ is concerned for the safety of award-winning French journalist Gwen LeGouil, who was kidnapped just outside the port town of Bossasso on Sunday by five unknown gunmen in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland. LeGouil is being held hostage in a mountainous area with no access to medicine or clean drinking water, according to Abdirisak Omar from the National Union of Somali Journalists in Bossasso.

“We urge the Puntland authorities to do everything in their power to ensure LeGouil is released safely and as soon as possible,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This is yet another example of why the authorities must make efforts to protect journalists as they do their work in this volatile region.”

According to local journalists, the kidnappers refused to negotiate with the Puntland authorities Sunday but have agreed to meet Puntland community leaders today. The gunmen demanded a ransom of US$25,000 on Monday—a reduction from the US$70,000 demanded the day before.

LeGouil had traveled to Bossasso to report on the human trafficking of African migrants from Bossasso to Saudi Arabia for the Franco-German TV network Arte Television, according to international news reports. As the economic capital of Puntland, Bossasso is becoming a hub for illegal immigration out of war-torn Somalia.

According to CPJ research, more than 30 journalists have fled Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, this year, including 24 who were then expelled from Hargeisa in the neighboring breakaway republic of Somaliland. Somalia is the second-most deadly place for journalists worldwide, according to CPJ research.