Rights group chides Somali govt for media abuses

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NAIROBI, Oct 23 (Reuters) An international rights group has lambasted the Somali government for ''systematic harassment'' of reporters, closure of media outlets and failure to investigate the killing of eight journalists this year.

With daily violence from an Islamist-led insurgency targeting the Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies, the Horn of Africa nation has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Few foreign correspondents go into Somalia these days, leaving local reporters to face the risks. Eight have died this year, most gunned down by unidentified assassins.

''The violent attacks on Somalia's journalists threaten their courageous reporting on the crisis in Mogadishu,'' said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement issued this week.

''The transitional Somali government must condemn and investigate these attacks as well as cease its own harassment.'' In the latest death, Radio Shabelle chairman Bashir Nur Gedi was shot dead on Friday night in what colleagues said was a politically motivated killing.

It followed a series of moves by government security forces against Somali media, including temporary closures of stations and some arrests of journalists and managers.

Local reporters believe both insurgents and state security forces have been targeting them when they consider media may be favouring one side or the other.

''The growth of independent media and civil society -- one of the few success stories in Somalia's 17 years of violent, stateless warfare -- has been severely damaged over the past 10 months,'' HRW added.

It also urged investigations into the deaths.

''The perpetrators of most of the eight killings of individual journalists in 2007 remain unknown,'' HRW said.

''To date, Somali government officials have consistently failed to condemn the killings, much less investigate, arrest, or prosecute anyone in connection with them.'' Somali officials insist they are doing their best to protect journalists, as well as all civilians, but say they are up against a vicious group with links to al Qaeda.

REUTERS ARB DS1250

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