Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP
Friends and family members carry the coffin of Said Tahlil in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Journalist’s Murder Makes Somalia Latest Battleground in Global War on Press

February 05, 2009 02:54 PM
by Anne Szustek
Said Tahlil Ahmed was shot and killed in Mogadishu by assassins who have threatened to kill others, according to witnesses.

Tahlil Is 13th Somali Journalist Killed Since 2007

“First, they shot him in the back and then one of the armed men came over (to) him and fired more shots into his head to finish him off,” one of murdered Somali journalist Said Tahlil Ahmed’s colleagues said, according to United Press International. “One of the gunmen was shouting, ‘Kill the other one,’ which they meant another one of us.”

Tahlil worked for HornAfrik, a Somali-language TV and radio station based in Mogadishu.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Somalia has seen at least 13 journalists killed while on on the job since 2007, and that more than 50 are now in exile, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Union of Somali Journalists. Somalia is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

One exiled journalist named Osman, whose name has been changed, told the Monitor that the Somali government arrested him and sent him away for interrogation, beatings and torture while he was working for HornAfrik. He says that he was later released due to pressure from the international community.

Somalia has long suffered from political instability and remains plagued by fractious militias that see journalism as a threat.

“When the Islamic Courts Union arrested you, people could come and talk and ask questions, and there could be some dialogue,” says Ali, an exiled Somali journalist and chairman of the Committee for Somali Journalists, according to the Monitor. “But with Al Shabab [a radical Islamist group], there is no dialogue, there are no questions. Anyone who asks questions on your behalf also gets arrested.”

“Why we become targeted,” Ali says, “is because these people do not want media coverage and international exposure of the massacres they are carrying out.”

Background: Assaults on press freedom in Asia

Several incidents in recent months have highlighted threats to press freedom in Asia.

In South Korea, the government has jailed financial blogger Park Dae-Sung, a 31-year-old Korean man who has never worked in the finance sector, and says that he is responsible for a $2 billion foreign currency loss. Park earned a wide following on the Internet for his economic soothsaying, and among his accurate predictions: the demise of 186-year-old U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers and the steep weakening of the Korean won against the U.S. dollar.

But two of his 200-odd postings struck the South Korean government as potentially contentious: the first said the South Korean government had issued letters to financial institutions advising them to stop buying dollar reserves in a bid to bolster the won, according to the Washington Post. The second was a post that said the “Finance Ministry would immediately terminate a foreign exchange program for government agencies that owed dollar-denominated debt overseas,” writes Forbes.

The South Korean government has categorically denied those claims, and Park is now awaiting trial under a little-invoked telecommunications law that could see Park imprisoned for up to five years.

South Korea isn't the only country in Asia that seems to be cracking down on free speech. Nguyen Cong Khe, editor in chief of Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien and Le Hoang, who edited the Vietnamese publication Tuoi Tre, were fired just months after two of their reporters had gone on trial over their coverage of a major government corruption case. Vietnam’s Communist authorities have in recent months been tightening control of the media with a new policy to crack down on both state-run media and the blogosphere. Two other publications, Legality and Saigon Business People, lost their editors-in-chief in December.

Thailand also raised concerns about free speech last month when it blocked 2,300 Web sites that it says are insulting to the country's king.

Related Topic: Annual journalism report shows fewer deaths, fewer freedoms

In 2008, Reporters Without Borders continued to raise concerns about threats to freedom of the press worldwide, despite a decrease in the number of journalists who died on the job last year. It attributed the drop to fewer journalists’ deaths in Iraq and said the number also indicated a rise in journalists leaving the profession. Its annual report also raised concerns about increasing censorship and the compromising of journalists’ rights.

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