U.N. envoy ‘motivates Somali warlords’

Friends and relatives prepare to bury Said Tahlil, a journalist killed on February 4.
A controversial comment by the top U.N. envoy to Somalia "motivates" those who have carried out recent fatal attacks against journalists in the war-torn country, the head of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) said Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, compared the role of Somalia’s media with the infamous Rwandan radio station that was used to incite participation in the 1994 genocide in that country. A day after his remarks, suspected Islamist gunmen shot and killed Said Tahlil Ahmed, the director of independent HornAfrik Radio in Mogadishu, in broad daylight in the Somali capital. Ould-Abdallah’s statement “motivates the criminals and warlords who have been committing unpunished crimes against journalists to keep on their merciless war against media,” according to Omar Faruk Osman, head of the NUSOJ. It also “raises serious questions regarding the willingness of (Ould-Abdallah) to help protect Somalia’s endangered media professionals,” Faruk Osman said. He called on the U.N. official to “immediately withdraw allegations against Somali media and make (a) public apology.” “If the U.N. ambassador does not meet our demand, it only confirms a hidden and dangerous agenda by the U.N. official,” he said. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Ould-Abdallah to “immediately retract” his statement.

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In a February 3 Voice of America interview, Ould-Abdallah reacted angrily to allegations that African Union troops the day before had indiscriminately fired on Somali civilians after their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb. HRW has also called for an independent investigation into that incident, which killed at least 13 — most of them civilians. “What happened is to divert attention from what is going on here and, as usual, to use the media to repeat Radio Mille Collines, to repeat the genocide in Rwanda,” Ould-Abdallah said in the VOA broadcast. Faruk Osman said that while not all Somali journalists are perfect, “they are working in an extraordinarily difficult environment by the fault of politicians, and toothless diplomats.” “The comparison with Radio Mille Collines is insulting, ignorant and dangerous, as that radio had become a legitimate military target in Rwanda,” the NUSOJ secretary-general added. On Saturday, another Somali journalist, Hassan Bulhan Ali, was stabbed five times in the stomach and heart during a tribal reconciliation meeting in the central town of Abudwaq, according to NUSOJ. Bulhan, 38 and director of Radio Abudwaq — was critically wounded. “Somali journalists have paid an enormous price to continue reporting on the crisis in Somalia,” said Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa director. “The U.N. should be making every effort to support independent Somali media and civil society at this critical time, not comparing journalists to war criminals.” Somali radio stations in Mogadishu recently agreed to take steps to avoid broadcasting any messages of incitement, according to Shabelle Media. The stations agreed not to air live sermons by Muslim clerics or live news conferences or interviews by insurgent groups in an effort to avoid promoting their political agendas, according to the Shabelle report. The statements will instead be recorded and “checked and edited,” before they are broadcast, it said. CNN regularly works with Somali journalists who are employed by Shabelle Media. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists Somalia as the seventh most deadly nation in the world for journalists, with 11 Somali journalists killed since 2007, including Said Tahlil Ahmed and another this year. Members of the news media work under duress there amid a war between a weak transitional government and insurgents, the committee said.