January 28, 2008
His Excellency Nur Hassan Hussein
Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government of the Republic of Somalia
C/o Permanent Mission of the Somali Republic to the United Nations
425 East 61st St., Suite 702
New York, NY 10021
Fax: (212) 759-0651
Dear Prime Minister,
As a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization of journalists committed to supporting our colleagues around the world, we are concerned about an ongoing pattern of arbitrary arrests and threats by government officials against Somali journalists. It is within your power to put an end to this harassment, which is contrary to international standards of press freedom. As you recently expressed, it is time to end these abuses.
Somalia is the second-most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist, with seven killed in the line of duty last year, all with total impunity, according to our research. CPJ also documented 22 separate cases last year, over half of them in Mogadishu, of government officials and security forces arresting and threatening journalists in an effort to suppress national and international coverage. The vast majority of these arrests were conducted without warrants or even formal charges.
Three journalists are currently in prison for baseless reasons: Somaliweyn Radio's director, Abdirahman Mohamed, reporter Bashir Mohammed, and Radio Banadir reporter Mohammed Shidane are reportedly being held without charge near the presidential palace. This month alone, five journalists were summarily imprisoned in connection with their work. In each of these cases, local officials did not follow due process, and in only one case, concerning BBC freelance reporter Ayanle Hussein, was an official reason even given.
This ongoing harassment forced at least 50 journalists to flee Mogadishu last year, according to our research. International broadcasters have also faced expulsion for coverage deemed critical of the government. In March, the National Security Agency shuttered Al-Jazeera's Mogadishu office with only vague accusations leveled by the former information minister that the Qatar-based broadcaster "has conveyed the wrong message to the world."
It is time to reverse these trends and ensure government and security personnel do not abuse their offices. Toward that effort, we welcome your announcement this week that "violations against the free press are over."
We now urge you to use this directive to ensure that government and security personnel no longer summarily detain journalists in an attempt to censor and quell independent reporting. We ask that you release the three incarcerated journalists, and support Information Minister Ahmed Abdisalaam Adan's directive to set up a committee that would link the government and media to help end violations against the press. And as part of your promise to improve security in the capital, we ask that you include journalists specifically in this goal. Reporters must be able to move freely and safely both there and throughout the rest of the country in order to successfully bring news of the ongoing conflict to the world.
CPJ appreciates your commitment to protect the independent press and encourages decisive action to uphold press freedom as enshrined in Article 20 of the Transitional Federal Charter of Somalia.