The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Monday called on the African Union (AU) to protect journalists in Somalia after the recent beating of four reporters by soldiers.
As a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and as a supporter of IFJ, I am concerned by the patterns of abuse that are coming out of Africa in recent days. I had intended to bury my own story, as it seems distracting, but perhaps it is important to come forward when “freedom of the press” has become a non sequitur in some countries in Africa.
On my recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was falsely accused of espionage by conservation interests, and the video record of my interviews was stolen. This accusation resulted in my “detention” for two days by agents of the Direction Provinciale de Migration (DGM) in Congo. I was told I was not officially under arrest, but neither was I able to freely leave the country. I was interrogated in French (I read, but do not speak the language) with a translator not of my choosing, who told me he would do a better job if I would pay him. I did not. I could have said “the moon is made of green cheese,” and it would not matter. This is only a small example of what happens to freelancers who are trying to shine a light on what is really happening in Africa. Espionage carries the death penalty in DRC.
I will never forget the sweaty face of my Chief Interrogator, “Jean-Baptiste,” of the feared DGM. Google what Amnesty International has to say about DGM if you are interested. I was one of the lucky ones, because I had the almighty American passport, which I refused to surrender, and because some powerful forces went to bat for me through the interventions of another American journalist. Chubby Jean-Baptiste told me in English that he “worked very hard” and was “very hungry” and “wondered how I could help (bribe) him.” Smart-mouthed Chicago street talk took over, and I told him to “form a union.” When I asked for water, I was put in a closed car with three other guys. We were on the equator.
Corrupt interests in Africa will take any possible venue to silence voices speaking for the poor and dispossessed. Talk about “speaking truth to power!” I would return to Congo in a heartbeat, since I have nothing to fear from militias or the Congolese people. Conservation interests and their “silencers” are another story.
More importantly, according to IFJ, another reporter is being held in Somalia by pro-government forces.
“We condemn these attacks on the journalists and call for the immediate release of our colleague who is still being detained,” said Gabriel Baglo Director of the IFJ Africa Office. “We call on African Union President John Kuffor, and AU Commission President Alpha Konaré to put pressure on the Somali government so that their troops stop targeting journalists.”
In other incidents, on Sunday Abdirahman Aladalla, another SMN journalist, was beaten and detained by Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers in Darmoley, 15 km south of Mogadishu. According to an SMN report, the soldiers asked Aladalla if he was an Islamist or Al-Qaeda member. The journalist was released after about three hours with injuries to one arm.
On Saturday, Hassan Sadeh Dhaqane, a journalist working with the private radio station HornAfrik Radio, was arrested in Mogadishu and is still being detained. According to the Associated Somali Journalists, the journalist was reporting on an attack on the African Union troops at the Mogadishu airport.
The IFJ is calling on AU troops and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to protect journalists in Somalia and allow them to work freely. Ethiopian troops helped the TFG to oust the Union of Islamic Courts from Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia in late December 2006. The Ethiopian troops are still in the country supporting the TFG.
“We are worried that some pro-government forces are treating journalists like their enemies,” said Gabriel Baglo. “We are calling on the TFG to allow independent journalists to work independently without fear for their safety or liberty.”
For further information contact the IFJ: +221 842 01 43
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries