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Unprecedented arrest of Somali soldiers for mistreating journalists

Somali soldiers arrest a civilian close to the scene of two explosions in Mogadishu, 23 March 2019
Somali soldiers arrest a civilian close to the scene of two explosions in Mogadishu, 23 March 2019

MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 26 March 2019.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the unprecedented arrest of two Somali soldiers on charges of torturing and threatening two reporters, and urges the authorities to systematically punish all those responsible for crimes of violence against journalists in what is one of Africa's most dangerous countries for media personnel.

Impunity for crimes of violence against journalists has always been the norm in Somalia until the two soldiers were arrested on 24 March and placed in preventive detention on charges of "torture" and "threats" brought by the armed forces attorney-general in connection with their treatment of two reporters on 18 February.

The two journalists, Abdullahi Dahir Abdi and Said Warsame Sabriye, who work for the video news production company Dhanbaal, were on foot in Mogadishu on 18 February, interviewing passers-by about the lockdown in some of its streets, when they were arrested and handcuffed by the two soldiers and then made to lie face down on the sidewalk with their feet tied to the hands.

Although the journalists had committed no crime, they were forced to remain in this humiliating and painful position for an hour and a half before the soldiers handed them over to the police, who finally released them.

"These unprecedented arrests of the two soldiers, which were decided at the highest state level, set an important precedent for the fight against impunity in Somalia," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk."It is essential that the authorities continue to move in this direction so that the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for abuses against journalists become systematic. We urge the authorities to demonstrate the same determination by arresting the police officer who gunned down a journalist in cold blood last July."

Somalia continues to be one of Africa's deadliest countries for media personnel, with three journalists killed in connection with their work last year. Two were killed by the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab.

The third, Abdirisaq Qasim Iman, a reporter for the privately-owned TV channel SBS, was shot dead by a policeman during an argument at a checkpoint in Mogadishu on 25 July. Although the policeman's identity is known, he has yet to be arrested.

Somali is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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