NEW YORK, March 13, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Somali police attacked and obstructed more than a half-dozen journalists who were seeking to cover a rape trial in Mogadishu on Saturday, as authorities continue to struggle in meeting law enforcement and free expression demands in sexual assault cases. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the attacks and calls on authorities to hold the officers accountable.
Police in the Afar-Irdood district beat several journalists attempting to cover the case in regional court and forcibly removed them from the premises without providing an explanation, local journalists told CPJ. The journalists returned to the court later in the day at the invitation of the court’s security chief, who promised to discipline the officers, but the reporters were beaten and attacked again, according to news reports and local journalists. The Afar-Irdood Police Station is responsible for court security.
Local journalists told CPJ they suspected the police wanted to prevent news coverageof the rape trial. The Somali criminal justice system has drawn widespread attention and outcry after a freelance journalist was given a six-month jail term for interviewing a woman who claimed she was raped by Somali soldiers. An appeals court said Abdiaziz Abdinuur had conducted the interview “without informing authorities,” a charge not based on Somali law, according to CPJ research.
On Saturday, the following journalists were attacked: Radio Simba journalist Mohamed Hassan; Somali National Television reporter Saadiyo Mohamed; Shabelle Media Network journalist Mustafa Abdinuur; Horn Cable TV reporter Mohamoud Siad and cameraman Abdulkadir Abdullahi; Royal Television cameraman Nur Mohamed Barre; and Risaala Radio reporter Bile Mire, according to local journalists.
While the journalists were being attacked for the second time, Police Chief Mohamed Dahir ordered the police to arrest them, local reporters said. Two journalists, Nur and Bile, were briefly detained, and their cameras confiscated. Both were released and their equipment returned after Hashi Elmi Nur, the court’s chairman, intervened on their behalf. Hashi had invited all of the journalists to attend the court case, news reports said.
Abdirashid Abdulle, a member of the local journalists union, also broke a finger on his left hand when he tried to prevent a police officer from hitting Nur with the butt of his gun, according to news reports and local journalists.
“Somali police don’t have the right to arbitrarily decide what journalists can cover in court, and they are certainly abusing their authority by resorting to violence,” CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said. “Police have a duty to work with court authorities to ensure that legal proceedings are held in a fair and open manner.”