Canada, Australia should step up efforts to free captives

New York, June 11, 2009The Committee to Protect Journalists urges the Canadian and Australian governments to work for the immediate release of two freelance journalists who have been held captive in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, since August.

On Wednesday, a woman claiming to be captive journalist Amanda Lindhout called the Canadian broadcaster CTV, saying she fears for her life and pleading for the government to assist her. Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were abducted along the Afgoye-Mogadishu road, just outside the capital.

“I have been held hostage by gunmen in Somalia for nearly 10 months. I am in a desperate situation,” the woman told CTV. “The Canadian government must have some duty to help its citizens in such a crisis.”

On May 25, Agence France-Presse reported that its correspondent in Mogadishu had received a call from two people who represented themselves as the captive journalists. The callers said they were in poor health and urged their respective governments to help free them, AFP reported.

“It must be agonizing for the family and friends of Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan to hear these reports about their poor health and the harsh conditions of their confinement in a city racked by conflict,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “We understand that the Canadian and Australian authorities are working to help these journalists but it has been nearly 10 months since they were kidnapped. Both countries must step up efforts to secure their safe and swift release.”

Daniel Barbarie, a spokesman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, told CPJ that his government was aware of the CTV report. He said officials “continue to pursue all appropriate channels to seek further information about Ms. Lindhout’s welfare, and to assist the family in securing her safe release as well as that of Mr. Brennan.”

Somali journalist Abdifatah Elmi–who was acting as a fixer for Lindhout and Brennan–was freed on January 15 after being held captive for five months. Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press; five journalists have been killed in 2009 alone.