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Eight Journalists Killed In 2013 Broke All Records In India – RSF

(Pic courtesy The Guardian)

India ranks first among democracies and third in the world, in the number of journalists killed in the line of duty this year. 

According to figures just published by Reporters without Borders (RSF), 71 journalists killed in 2013 overall, which is a slight decrease from the 88 killed in 2012. However, abduction of journalists in 2013 has risen alarmingly: from 38 last year to 87 in 2013.
As these statistics were published, RSF’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire called for an amendment of the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to define the “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” as war crimes. He was speaking on Friday at a special UN Security Council meeting in New York on protecting journalists where RSF presented a series of recommendations on improving legislation to protect journalists better.
Three countries – Syria (10 journalists and 35 citizen journalists), Somalia (7 journalists) and Pakistan (8 journalists) retained places among the top five ‘deadliest countries for journalists’ from last year. India, with eight journalists killed, assumed third position – behind Syria and Somalia and one place ahead of its South Asian neighbour. The Philippines occupies position five, also with eight deaths. Regionally Asia accounts for the highest number of journalists killed.
“The toll of eight journalists killed in connection with their work in 2013 broke all records in India. Criminal gangs, demonstrators and political party supporters were to blame in some cases. But local police and security forces were also guilty of rarely-punished violence and threats against reporters, forcing them to censor themselves,” said RSF.
India and the Philippines replaced Brazil and Mexico, which were among the top five deadliest countries for journalists in 2012. RSF reports however that five journalists were killed in Brazil in 2013 (same as in 2012), while in Mexico two journalists were killed while three were abducted this year.
Among the 87 journalists abducted in 2013, 49 were kidnapped in Syria and 14 in Libya. As of December 18, 22 Syrian news providers and 18 foreign journalists are missing. “Foreign journalists were increasingly targeted by the government and by Islamists groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Jabhat Al-Nosra, but their Syrian colleagues were the most exposed,” RSF said.
This year ranks more poorly compared 2012 in the number of physical attacks and threats to journalists. “Journalists were systematically targeted by the security forces in Turkey, in connection with the Gezi Park protests, and to a lesser extent in Ukraine in connection with the Independence Square (Maidan) protests,” said RSF. There were also more than 100 cases of violence and harassment of journalists from Mexico, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Violence and threat has also forced journalists to flee into exile. Syria leads the numbers with 31 professional and citizen journalists many of whom RSF says “are now in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt, destitute and vulnerable.” Syria is followed by Iran (12), Eretria (five) and Somalia.
“Victims of xenophobia and accused of being Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt, interrogated and threatened by the security services in Jordan, and threatened by pro-Assad militias in Lebanon, their situation often continues to be extremely precarious,” says RSF describing the life of exiled journalists.
In view of their situation Deloire speaking at the UN proposed, “[t]here is still no appropriate mechanism for protecting news providers and human rights defenders who are forced to flee their country. [RSF], which supports hundreds of exile journalists every year, is therefore urging the UN and member states to promote procedures for protecting and resettling news providers and human rights defenders who are in danger in transit countries.”
(Tomorrow: journalists in detention)

Somali Media Faces Renewed Challenges: Murder, Raids, Licences

Mohamed Mohamud (Tima’ade) killed by suspected Al-Shabab (Pic:CPJ)

A renewed bout of violence and intimidation on the media in Somalia has drawn international condemnation, although it’s unlikely to deter the country’s lawless authorities and trigger-happy militia that have used their power recently to kill journalists, raid a radio station and censor content on radio by insisting on licences.

That censorship in Somalia goes as far as killing journalists was given a crude reminder when Mohamed Mohamud known as Tima’ade of the UK-based Universal TV, became the seventh journalist to be killed this year when he died at Medina Hospital on October 26 from bullet injuries he received four days earlier. He was shot six times in the neck, head and shoulder.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was not clear who carried out the attack, although the Islamic militia Al-Shabab had claimed responsibility via twitter. Not to be outdone, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdoon, under whom government operatives have been responsible for terrorising the media, also tweeted condemning the killing.
“Condemning these killings is not enough – authorities must do more to apprehend murderers who have struck with total impunity in 2013,” wrote Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa representative.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) described the murdered journalist as a “respected investigative reporter … involved in defending independent media against the provisions of the new media law, which press freedom activists regard as draconian.”
“The government and allied … forces in Mogadishu have largely weakened the Somali hardliners known as Al-Shabaab, but their ability to target the press remains. And while Al-Shabaab is routinely labelled the guilty party, they are not the only ones threatening journalists,” writes Abdiaziz Abdinuur Ibrahim, a guest blogger for CPJ.
On the same day Tima’adedied media in Somalia faced other problems too. On the morning of October 26 the police first sealed the area surrounding Shabelle Media Network in Mogadishu that houses two radio stations – Shabelle Radio and Sky FM, both private owned by the same company. The police then used vehicles to break through, which the radio stations’ listeners could hear until the transmitters were switched off.
The police proceeded to assault employees after confiscating their mobile phones. They were later escorted to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). The equipment and archives of the radio station were dismantled and taken away. The journalists were first told they would be prosecuted but apparently let off after being photographed and fingerprinted when parliamentarians intervened.
According to RSF the raid followed a notice issued five days earlier by Somalia’s Interior Ministry asking Shabelle Media Network to vacate its offices, claiming it belonged to the ministry of information, posts, telecommunications and transport. RSF said it was in retaliation to stations broadcast reports on “declining security in Mogadishu and suspected government corruption.”
The Toronto-based International Freedom of Information Exchange (IFEX) said that on October 24, Shabelle had petitioned the regional court on the eviction and the imminent raid, but the court had rejected the petition. “This stands out as a clear abdication of judiciary responsibilities,” said IFEX.
RSF and 19 other pro-free speech NGOs wrote to Prime Minister Shirdoon before the raid deploring the government agency’s eviction notice to Shabelle. They said in the letter, “As you know, Radio Shabelle seeks to publish free and fair information, and to accurately describe the situation on the ground while avoiding political or religious exploitation of their network.
“Targeted by the radical Islamic militia Al-Shabaab and Hibzz al-Islaam, unfairly accused of serving foreign interests, it has paid a very heavy human tribute over the past years because of its commitment to provide free and independent information to the Somali population, losing ten journalists to violent attacks since 2007.”
RSF said that the threat from Al-Shabab is so real to the journalists from Shabelle initially refused to leave CID headquarters after they were released fearing they would be targeted by the brutal militia. The media watchdog said that many journalists live on Shabelle premises fearing attacks by Al-Shabab.
“In a country notorious for violence against journalists, the Shabelle Media Network building not only housed two radio stations but also served as a safe residence for many of their journalists, now homeless and exposed to violence by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia that has murdered dozens of journalists in recent years,” said RSF
IFEX quoted the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) saying that the ministry of information was putting pressure on the media not to carry stories about the raid and “Consequently, radio stations censored themselves in covering the crackdown in fear of reprisal.”
Meanwhile, independent radio stations (including Radio Shabelle) face more harassment as Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi, the minister of information, posts, telecommunication and transport, called on all broadcasters to register with the ministry by November 10. “This requirement gives the government a way to put constant pressure on media that might be tempted to be critical,” said RSF.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) meanwhile reported that “The Minister of Information, Abdullahi Ilmoge, announced yesterday that Shabelle Media Network refused to renew its licenses with the Ministry, but the NUSOJ says there is no law that obliges the radio station to pay an excessively expensive license.
“‘The desperation of  the Ministry of Information to control an uncomfortable political news report has exposed their disregard for media freedom and freedom of expression and violated the right of Somalis to receive information,'” IFJ quoted Faruk Osman, secretary general of NUSOJ as saying.

Westgate Mall Attack Takes Its Toll On Journalists

Two photographers take cover at Westgate Mall (CPJ/AP) 

The Saturday, September 21 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, by Somali al Shabab militants that left over 60 dead took its toll on journalists too. Ruhila Adita-Sood of the Africa Radio Group was killed while hosting a cooking competition for children. Adita-Sood was recently married and expecting her first child.
“I have lost a dear colleague…I don’t know what to do or say. I don’t know who else we have lost today,” Kumar Kaur, a presenter for East FM was quoted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as saying.
Another Radio Africa Group employee who was also at the cooking competition with Adita-Sood was Andrew Lucheli. “We were ready to get started when suddenly we heard gunshots,” Lucheli told the Nairobi-based Star.
“The team initially thought it was thugs exchanging fire with police along the street below. A few minutes later, the sound of the gunshots intensified, drawing closer to the room they had occupied for the lavish event. What followed is a tale that will forever be etched in Andrew’s mind as the ruthless gunmen started spraying bullets at close range, with most casualties sustaining wounds on their legs,” said the Star
Foreign correspondents related the immediacy the incident and the effect the tragedy had on them. “‘Over the past two decades, I have found myself in numerous war zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I survived bombing in Baghdad, mortar attacks and street battles in Liberia, Libya and Yemen,’ Washington Post East Africa Bureau Chief Sudarsan Raghavan wrote in a blog. ‘But what unfolded Saturday felt markedly different. The war on terrorism had hit uncomfortably close to home […] the interviews with victims felt more personal than other tragedies I have covered,'” said the CPJ
The Media Council of Kenya while congratulating the media on its responsible reporting of the attack also said journalists covering the incident were victims of trauma. “‘So many journalists have become traumatised as a result of covering this; it has not been easy for them,'” Harun Mwangi, CEO of the Media Council of Kenya was quoted by Capital FM as saying. “‘Most of the time they are forgotten but we have already set up a counselling centre for them.’ He also urged Kenyans to continue supporting the victims of the incident,” said Capital FM.
Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders (RSF) based in Paris said that al Shabab was designated as an “enemy of freedom of information” for carrying out attacks on the independent media in Somalia.

Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan in 10th Month of Capture in Somalia

Today marks the 307 day that journalists Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan have been held captive in Somalia, enduring harsh living conditions that keep them chained and without clean water, sufficient food, or medicine.

On August 23, Lindhout, a Canadian journalist, and Brennan, an Australian photographer, were abducted outside the capitol city of Mogadishu. They were traveling with two Somali drivers and a fixer to a refugee camp in order to continue their coverage on Somalia’s worsening humanitarian crisis. The three Somalis were released in January.

Ambroise Pierre, the Africa expert with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears that the kidnappers did not expect the situation to drag on for this long. “They are really getting impatient,” he says. “The kidnappers wanted to negotiate sooner than this.”

The kidnappers have demanded varying amounts around $2.5 million dollars in ransom for the two journalists. On Wednesday, a caller into Canadian broadcaster CTV claiming to be Lindhout left a message begging her government to take action and warning of her immediate need for care. “The Canadian government must have some duty to help its citizen in such a crisis and my fellow citizens to assist me by putting pressure on the government,” she said. “Without food or medicine, I will die here and I’m in need of immediate aid.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists‘ (CPJ) Robert Mahoney says “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.”
CTV reported yesterday on the comparatively small public pressure on the government in this case.

Frontline commented on their Twitter page about the lack of government response and media coverage relating to the capture, and CTV has sourced documents pointing to a lack of public pressure. While the news of deteriorating conditions is worrisome, we hope this latest message will lead to more mainstream media coverage and general pressure on the Australian and Canadian governments do all they can to ensure the safe and timely release of Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan.

Somalia has been declared the most dangerous African country for journalists, and five Somali reporters have been killed already this year.

Click here to read Lindhout’s message to CTV in its entirety.

Click here to sign the petition for the release of the two journalists.

Somalia Deadliest African Country For Journalists

Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe became the fifth journalist to be murdered in Somalia this year, confirming Somalia as the deadliest African country for journalists.  Hirabe, the director of Radio Shabelle, was gunned down in the streets of Mogadishu by three unknown gunmen while walking to work with his colleague Ahmed Omar Hashi.  Hashi was shot in the hand and stomach but survived.  He is currently seeking ways to leave Somalia, fearing for his life if he remains.

Hirabe’s murder, the fifth of the year and the fourteenth since 2007, drew calls from many non-profit organizations to guaranty the safety of journalists covering Somalia’s ongoing conflict.  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “expressed anger and dismay” at the murder while urging the Somali president to “come to grips with the scale of this catastrophe and do his utmost to ensure the safety of journalists.”   The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also issued a statement calling “on all those who are fighting in this conflict to stop targeting journalists and instead do their utmost to protect them.”  The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) stated that they were “shocked” by the attack. 

Hirabe is the third journalist from Radio Shabelle to be murdered this year.  His murder comes just over four months after the killing of Radio HornAfrik director Said Tahlil and a year to the day after the murder of NUSOJ vice-president Nasteh Daher Farah.  Hirabe, like Tahlil, was murdered in the Bakara Market, a section controlled by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia.  Hirabe had survived one murder attempt, on the same day Tahlil was murdered.  Hashi escaped on that day as well.

While Somalia’s lawlessness riveted the Western media in early 2009 after Somali pirates captured an American vessel and several other Western ships, little attention has been paid to the ongoing conflict between various warring factions and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has increasingly used journalists as pawns.  The CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes,  stated that “as the conflict in Somalia intensifies, journalists are increasingly targeted at unprecedented levels by insurgent groups. [T]he international community must hold those who commit violence against journalists to account.”  Some believe that Hirabe’s murder and the attempt on Hashi’s life were retaliation for false stories claiming that Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys had been killed or injured.  However, there is also  speculation by Hirabe and Hashi’s colleagues that the attack was carried out by insurgents trying to control the Somali airwaves.

Whatever the reason, the alarmingly increasing trend in recent years of murdering, capturing, or otherwise harming journalists to make a political statement must come to an end.  A free and fair press which can operate without fear is beneficial to all and guaranties that all sides will be heard.