Reporters Without Borders today voiced "great concern" about threats in recent weeks by gunmen against its partner organisation in Somalia, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), just before and after its annual general assembly in Mogadishu on 29-31 August. NUSOJ called itself SOJON until recently.
"It is getting more and more difficult for Somali journalists to work," the press freedom organisation said. "Pushed around by warlords, Islamic courts and businessmen, they chose to defend themselves by setting up an exemplary, democratically-run organisation, and this is now being targeted."
Reporters Without Borders added: "We appeal to the transitional federal government and its international partners to use their influence to get these threats stopped as soon as possible. This episode highlights the urgent need to re-establish the rule of law in Mogadishu, in order to protect the small pockets of democracy that Somalis have managed to create for themselves amid the anarchy."
Anonymous death threats were received several times by members of the NUSOJ leadership during the week of 22-28 August. Secretary-general Omar Faruk Osman and council chairman Mohamed Barre Haji received anonymous calls on NUSOJ lines or their mobile phones warning that they would be killed "immediately" or "in 48 hours."
During the 10 days prior to the general assembly, a Toyota pickup with a dozen heavily-armed men aboard regularly passed in front of the NUSOJ office, in the Waberi district. On 1 September, there was a stand-off between them and Mohamed Barre Haji’s bodyguards. The pickup, which was equipped with an anti-aircraft gun, finally withdrew and no shots were fired.
The next day, four hooded militiamen with AK-47 assault rifles in a saloon car forced their way into the home of one of the members of the NUSOJ executive committee, Ali Moallim Isak, who was not there at the time. The militiamen finally left after waiting for six hours, without ever giving any explanation.
"We don’t know who these militiamen are or what they want," Omar Faruk Osman told Reporters Without Borders. "The only law that is respected in this country is the law of the gun. As a result, we have stepped up our protective measures. We will not let these acts of intimidation prevent us from working."
Mohamed "Siidi" Abdulle Hassan, the local correspondent of the Swedish-based news website somaliweyn.com, was meanwhile briefly kidnapped yesterday by the militia of Yusuf Ali, the self-proclaimed governor of the central region of Hiiraan, for failing to report a press conference he gave in Mogadishu. Yusuf Ali put a pistol to his head and ordered him to tell his editor that he would be killed if a report was not published. Siidi was released after NUSOJ interceded with Yusuf Ali, who nonetheless confiscated Siidi’s equipment and material.