Eastern African Journalists Call for the Respect of Press Freedom in Somalia

Statement from the East African Journalists' Association (EAJA)

Mogadishu, September 20, 2004: The East African Journalists Association (EAJA) and the Uganda Journalists Union (UJU) strongly condemn the today's arrest of the journalist Mohammed Barre Haji by Militias loyal to faction leader Muse Sudi Yalahow in Bal’ad district, north Mogadishu.

We believe that the all sides, including the militia, need to recognize that it is the contribution made by the journalists in Somaliland that has enabled the Somali people to realize hope of restoring sanity, peace, unity and tranquility in the war - torn country.

The exposure exhibited by the Press helped the warring factions to create an enabling environment for peace - seeking individuals to establish dialogue and to try, for the time being, bury differences that had rendered the "horn of Africa" state hopeless.

By forcing Mohammed Barre to tear off the page on his notebook on which he had scribbled notes showing how militias had ruined Shabelle region in the 15 years they kept grip of the area, shows how tyrannical the local leaders are. The local leaders many of whom were elected to the new Somali Parliament continue to hold roadblocks and using "child soldiers" to carry guns but are elusive and against journalists showing the world the true picture in Somalia.

The role played by Somali Journalists is the very reason why the once antagonistic factions are now talking peace on the same table yet three years ago they could not see themselves eye to eye. Somali Militias should know that the press coverage, be it positive or negative, is helping the Somalis to recover from the anarchy that precipitated after the overthrow of Somali dictator the late Mohamed Said Barre.

But while Mr Mohamed Barre was released later the charges were upheld which means there could be a linkor deliberate move to intimidate him since he is the chairman - elect of the Supreme Council of the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON).

There must be a difference between the reign of Said Barre and the "liberators" (Militias) who claim to be have fought, or are fighting for a fundamental change in Somalia. It is after the local leaders have understood the roles played by journalists that total peace, unity and tranquility can be ushered in - in that country.

The East African Journalists Association and Uganda Journalists Union, therefore supports all efforts geared towards the enhancement of a free and conducive media - friendly atmosphere. We fight for and support Press Freedom and Freedom of expression.

We join hands with our brothers and sisters in the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON) in resisting draconian "laws" that tend to curtain a free press and muzzle freedom of expression.

Stephen Ouma Bwire
General Secretary
East Africa Journalists' Association / Uganda Jouralists' Union