Hard times for exiled journalists in east Africa

June 19, 2012 12:12 pm
A journalist being arrested/FILE

, NEW YORK, Jun 19 – More than a quarter of the 57 journalists who fled their homeland in the past year worked in east Africa, with Somalia the main source of exiles, a report released Tuesday said.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said that seven journalists have left strife-torn Somalia since June 2011, while others have fled from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Rwanda.

Journalists who have sought exile in the region account for almost half of the 450 journalists forced to abandon their countries in the past five years, according to the “Journalists in Exile 2012” report, which detailed sometimes difficult conditions in their host countries.

One of the Somalis who left, Horriyo Abdilkader, 20, who worked at local Radio Galkayo in the north, described being shot five times one day when she was leaving work.

“The actual attack was not the most painful moment because it happened so fast,” she told the CPJ. “It was the time afterward. I was terrified.”

Days later, in need of medical attention, she left for the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Six journalists have been killed in Somalia in 2012 and nobody has been prosecuted for such murders since 1992.

“There is a journalist refugee crisis in East Africa that has drastically affected the region’s ability to maintain media institutions that provide reliable, vital information,” said Maria Salazar-Ferro, CPJ journalist assistance program coordinator and co-author of the report.

“After enduring violence and threats, these journalists fled for their lives, only to land in a state of prolonged uncertainty as governments and the UN refugee agency process their cases.”

Exiles from Eritrea, which have the highest numbers of journalists behind bars, have expressed fears of being hunted down abroad by their countries’ security forces.

Aaron Berhane and Semret Seyoum, staffers for the biweekly Setit, and a fixer were ambushed and shot at while trying to cross into Sudan.

“I thought it was the end of my life,” Aaron said. “But I preferred to die than be tortured and reveal my sources, so I ran.” He successfully crossed the border into Sudan, then Kenya, and eventually went on to Canada.

Semret and the fixer were detained. Semret, released a year later, fled to Sweden. Aaron said he was terrified of being kidnapped while in Sudan.

The two hubs for exiled journalists are Kenya, which hosts 52, and Uganda, which hosts 24, according to CPJ figures.


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