Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Somalian journalists beaten by police while covering court case, says union
Abdullahi Ahmed Nor, a Somali journalist sentenced to a year in jail for interviewing a rape victim
In a separate incident, police beat and detained Abdullahi Ahmed Nor, a Somali journalist who was sentenced to a year in jail along with a rape victim he had interviewed, Lul Ali Osman Barake. Photograph: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

At least five reporters say they were assaulted in Mogadishu in the latest sign of a crackdown on press freedom in Somalia.

Journalists in Somalia claim they were threatened at gunpoint and beaten by police as they tried to cover a court case in Mogadishu, in the latest evidence of an official crackdown on press freedom.

At least five reporters were assaulted, some seriously, on Saturday, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists. The union leader said he believes the attack is related to recent media coverage of a woman who alleged that she was raped by uniformed men and then pressured by police to drop her case. The reporters had been invited to the court by its chairman, Hashi Elmi Nor, to cover hearings there but were "kicked out of the court" on the orders of a local police chief, the union said.

A court security official promised to take disciplinary action and asked the journalists to return. But when they did a soldier allegedly grabbed a gun and pointed to the journalists, threatened "to kill anyone who tries to enter, disobeying his commander".

After the journalists left again, police from the Afar-Irdood station in Hamarwein district "were ordered to chase and arrest the journalists", the union said. "The police started beating the journalists and pointing the gun at those who managed to escape."

A reporter and cameraman were seriously hurt and briefly detained, according to the union, whose treasurer suffered a broken finger as he tried to intervene. Eventually the court chairman ordered police to release the journalists and return their equipment.

Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary general of the union, said: "We condemn the beating and the arbitrary detentions against the journalists, and it is unlawful to knowingly point guns [at]the messengers. The journalists must be respected and facilitated in carrying out their duties.

"This clearly demonstrates the poor working relationship between the police and the media community following the recent rape case. However, journalists must feel safe in exercising their profession free from reprisals."

In a separate incident last week, the union said, police beat and briefly detained Abdullahi Ahmed Nor, a reporter for the UK-based Universal television. He was taken to a hospital for treatment with his face wounded and bloodied.

The plight of Somali journalists recently received worldwide attention [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/05/somali-woman-jailed-claiming-raped] after Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim interviewed an alleged rape victim, Lul Ali Osman Barake, and both were sentenced to a year in prison. While Barake's conviction was quashed on appeal, Ibrahim's was upheld with a reduced sentence of six months.

Hassan Ali Gesey, director of Dalsan Radio, where Ibraham is operations director, said: "All the journalists here are feeling demoralised. Abdiaziz is a colleague for us and one of the most liked at this station for his personality.

"Press freedom is under threat. There is a double risk right now. We knew the dangerous topic was al-Shabaab: they would kill you. But added to this is the government: if you talk about corruption and institutions, you will be in jail like Abdiaziz. Journalists who had fled the country in recent years and come back are now preparing to leave again in case they are arrested for their work."

Gesey also called for speedier police investigations into the murder of journalists. Last year 18 were killed but no arrests were made. Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for the media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Abdi Farah Shirdon, the prime minister, last month announced a $50,000 (£33,530) reward for information that leads to the convictions of those killing journalists. "I respect the important work you do in Somalia in what are often extremely difficult circumstances and I understand your concern," he said. "One journalist killed is one journalist too many. We don't want any to be killed."


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