Independent UN rights expert concerned at expulsion of journalists in Somalia

7 December 2007

An independent United Nations human rights expert today expressed concern at recent reports that authorities in the self-declared Somaliland have ordered 24 journalists to leave the region of northern Somalia within the next few days.

Ghanim Alnajjar, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, issued a statement calling on the authorities to reconsider their decision.

“The media must be allowed to perform its duties without apprehension,” he said, noting that threats to journalists and media outlets constitute a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Somalia’s journalists and human rights defenders face one of the most dangerous operating environments in the world. Eight media professionals have been killed this year and dozens more threatened into silence or forced to flee. Several media organizations have also been closed by authorities or pressured into restricting their reporting.

The journalists in question reportedly fled the Somali capital Mogadishu earlier this year because of threats and intimidation and then sought refuge in a safe house in the town of Hargeisa, which lies in Somaliland, with the approval of local authorities. Some of the journalists have continued to exercise their freedom of expression while in Hargeisa.

Mr. Alnajjar called for an investigation into all threats and attacks against the media and the prompt re-opening of any media outlets that had been forced to shut.

“I also take this opportunity to remind all Somali authorities of their obligation to respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to ensure the safety and security of all, including journalists and other media professionals, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers.”

Somaliland’s authorities have declared the region to be independent of Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991, but this has not been recognized internationally.