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Somalia18 December 2006

Two leaders of journalists’ union arrested at Mogadishu airport

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary general of its partner organisation in Somalia, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), and Ali Moalim Isak, the NUSOJ organising secretary. The two journalists were arrested by the security forces of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) at Mogadishu airport yesterday morning and were held all day at the Waberi district police station without being charged or being told the official reason for their detention.

"The NUSOJ is an independent, legitimate and courageous organisation," Reporters Without Borders said. "It represents and defends Somali journalists, who risk their lives to do their duty at a time of great uncertainty and violence. All it does is defend the right to be informed, so we do not understand why its leaders are suspected and mistreated."

The press freedom organisation added: "We call on Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the head of the UIC’s Shoura Council, to ensure that the NUSOJ is able to work freely throughout the country without being the target of attempts to destabilise or destroy it."

Osman was about to board a flight to Dubai at 9:45 a.m. when Isak, who had accompanied him to the airport, was detained by a security official and Osman was prevented from boarding. A security officer then told them they were “under arrest.” After being taken to the airport police post, they were transferred blindfolded to the Waberi district police station.

The security forces seized Osman’s laptop, documents he had with him, their passports and their mobile phones. A security officer came and interrogated them in their holding cell, forcing them to reveal the password so that he could look at Osman’s e-mail messages.

They were freed at around 8:30 p.m. after the UIC’s deputy director of security, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (also known as “Abu Mansur”), intervened. He personally drove them to their Mogadishu offices, assuring them they would “suffer no injustice” and were “innocent until found guilty by a court.” They have not been charged but the confiscated personal effects have not been returned to them.

“We are not opponents of the Islamic courts,” Osman told Reporters Without Borders by phone today. “We think they were manipulated and given false information about us. We were blindfolded and held without any explanation. I was prevented from leaving on a business trip and our personnel effects were seized. Our rights were violated, given that we were not charged and no court convicted us.”

The NUSOJ was awarded the 2005 Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France prize in the “Press Freedom Defender” category.

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