Kidnapped journalists in Somalia reportedly ill

New York, May 26, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists is very concerned about the well-being of two captive journalists, a Canadian and an Australian, who urged their respective governments to work harder for their release in a phone call with a reporter on Sunday. Both journalists said they were sick and being held in harsh conditions.

Freelance Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan said they were in poor health and urged their respective governments to help free them, according to news reports and local journalists. The two journalists briefly spoke separately to an Agence France-Presse correspondent in Mogadishu on the phone for five minutes on Sunday from an undisclosed location.

“We are deeply concerned by the statements made by Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan that they are ill and being held in harsh conditions,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We call upon the Australian and Canadian authorities to intensify their efforts to ensure their safe and quick release.”

The AFP correspondent said both hostages sounded very weak on the phone and appeared to be reading from a script. There was no independent confirmation of their identities. 

Lindhout said she had been sick for months while kept alone in a windowless room with access only to unclean drinking water and one meal per day at most. Brennan complained of suffering from an extreme fever and said he has been held in shackles for the last four months.

The call was made after weeks of efforts to establish contact with the hostages, according to AFP. The last reported signs of Lindhout and Brennan were on January 15 after their fixer, Somali freelance journalist Abdifatah Elmi was released. Elmi was taken hostage with the two foreign journalists and their driver last August. According to an interview with Elmi in the Canadian daily Globe and Mail, they were all kept in separate rooms but managed to communicate occasionally with each other with improvised sign language.

The three journalists and driver Mahad Clise were returning from interviewing refugees at Celasha Biyaha when they were kidnapped along the Afgoye-Mogadishu road last August by unknown gunmen, according to local journalists. Mogadishu is in the grip of fighting between rival clans and militias.

The two have been held hostage in one of the longest kidnappings in recent cases in Somalia.