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Journalists who were fired or suspended from their jobs for their opinions during last year's pro-democracy uprising hold a moment of silence Thursday in Manama, Bahrain, in memory of journalists killed and tortured in prison during a gathering to mark World Freedom Press Day.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — On World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders condemned the “astonishing pace” at which journalists are being attacked and murdered — 67 killed in 2011 and 22 more deaths since the beginning of the year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attacks “outrageous” and urged all countries to prevent and prosecute violence against the media and take action to ensure the safety of journalists and freedom of the press.

At Thursday’s U.N. commemoration of Press Freedom Day, Ban Ki-moon asked the assembled diplomats, members of the media and civil society representatives to observe a minute of silence “in honor of the journalists who were killed in the line of duty last year.”

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 179 journalists were detained in 2011, a 20 percent increase over 2010 and the highest level since 1990, Ban said.

“Countless others face intimidation, harassment and censorship at the hands of governments, corporations and powerful individuals seeking to preserve their power or hide wrongdoings and misdeeds,” the secretary-general said.

Ireland’s President Michael Higgins, a former broadcaster, told the commemoration the deaths demonstrate the risks that journalists and media workers face and “their vulnerability to intimidation, violence and persecution.”

“Many were victims of targeted killings, while the circumstances of other killings may never be fully explained,” he said.

Reporters Without Borders updated its list of “predators of the freedom to inform” to 41 individuals and group. It said the first quarter of 2012 clearly showed that the world’s predators led by Syria’s President Bashar Assad and Somalia’s Islamist militias “are capable of behaving like outrageous butchers.”

The media advocacy organization, based in France, decried the increase in attacks and killings of news providers — up from 57 murders in 2010 to 67 in 2011, and 22 so far this year including five journalists killings in Somalia, four in Syria, and two each in Bangladesh, Brazil and India.

In Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, dozens of Somali journalists met Thursday in somber silence to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, a meeting that took place only hours after the killing of the fifth Somali journalist this year. Two armed men shadowed Somali radio journalist Farhan Abdulle after he left his station late Wednesday, then shot him dead.

The killings also continued in Mexico, which has become one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists amid a raging drug war. The bodies of two news photographers were found dismembered in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz on Thursday, less than a week after the killing in the state of a reporter for an investigative magazine. The Reporters Without Borders predators list was updated this week to include Vasif Talibov, leader of the Nakhchivan region in Azerbaijan, in addition to the country’s president, Ilham Aliev.

Azerbaijan’s U.N. Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev, the current Security Council president, denied any repression of the media, telling a news conference Thursday that “we have a free press. ... We don’t have any people imprisoned because of their professional activities or political views.”

In Tunisia’s capital, hundreds of journalists from around the world gathered for special World Press Freedom Day events held in a country where reporters long faced repression before protesters brought down the country’s dictator last year and sparked uprisings across the Arab world.

UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, and Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki, a former human rights activist, were among those taking part in events that included a conference on improving security for journalists and improving access to information.

“The days of control of the media are over,” said Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.
On Thursday, a Tunisian court convicted the head of a private TV station for disrupting public order and violating moral values by airing an animated film that some religious leaders say insults Islam.
The court in Tunis ordered Nabil Karoui to pay a 2,400-dinar (€1,200, $1,575) fine because his station, Nessma TV, aired the animated film “Persepolis” in October.

Secretary-General Ban told the U.N. commemoration that the world has seen over the past year and a half across the Middle East and North Africa “the central role played by social media, mobile telephones and satellite television in generating an extraordinary ripple effect: from a vegetable seller’s simple cry for human dignity, to the fall of autocratic regimes.”

“As the use of those tools expands, the world is likely to see more historic changes — and other applications that can advance human well-being,” he said.

Ireland’s Higgins stressed that billions of people are still unable to access the Internet and while the “digital divide” has shrunk somewhat due to the proliferation of mobile phones, greater efforts are required to ensure that the poor, elderly, disabled and those living in rural areas become connected and don’t become victims of greater inequality.  

Printed on Friday, May 4, 2012 as: Reporters worldwide still write under duress

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Held captive since last fall, an ailing American woman and a Danish man are safely on their way home after a bold, dark-of-night rescue by U.S. Navy SEALs. The commandos slipped into a Somali encampment, shot and killed nine captors and whisked the hostages to freedom.

The raid’s success was welcome news for the hostages and their families, for the military and for President Barack Obama, who was delivering his State of the Union speech as the mission was wrapping up Tuesday night. He did not mention it in his address but dropped a hint upon arriving in the House chamber by telling Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “Good job tonight.”

It was the second splashy SEAL Team 6 success in less than a year, following last May’s killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The SEALs apparently encountered some degree of resistance from the kidnappers at the encampment. One U.S. official said Wednesday that there was a firefight but the length and extent of the battle were unclear.

Pentagon spokesmen said they could not confirm a gun battle, although one defense official said it was likely that the SEALs killed the kidnappers rather than capture them because they encountered armed resistance or the threat of resistance.

Special operations forces, trained for clandestine, small-team missions, have become a more prominent tool in the military’s kit since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will invest even more heavily in that capability in coming years.

After planning and rehearsal, the Somalia rescue was carried out by SEAL Team 6, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a secret mission. The same outfit did the bin Laden mission, the biggest counter-terror success of Obama’s presidency. It was not clear whether any team members participated in both operations.

One official said the SEALs parachuted from U.S. Air Force aircraft before moving on foot, apparently undetected, to the outdoor encampment where they found American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane, who had been kidnapped in Somalia last fall. The raid happened near the town of Adado.

In this Nov. 21, 2011 photo, residents harvest crops at a community-run farm, which receives assistance by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), near Dolo in Somalia.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DOLO, Somalia — Lush patches of green dot this once-barren land, allowing goats and camels to graze. A nearby field is full of large, purple onions thanks to a U.N.-funded project.

Four months after the U.N. declared famine in much of Somalia, some regions are beginning a slow recovery from a disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people.

But many Somalis — women, mostly — living in a stick-hut camp in this border town say they won’t return home because they’re afraid of hard-line Islamic militants stalking the country and of being unable to feed themselves and their children.

The U.N. reduced the number of famine zones in Somalia from six to three and said the number of people at risk of starvation has dropped from 750,000 to 250,000.

Since the July 20 famine declaration, the U.N. has received $800 million in aid for Somalia, and the U.S. has provided $650 million to drought-stricken Horn of Africa nations, including Somalia. Still, the fate of 13 million people affected by East Africa’s worst drought in decades remains in doubt.

“We are just at the beginning of a phase of a potential recovery if everything goes well,” said Luca Alinovi, the head of the Somalia office of the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization.

“We are very far away from the end of the famine,” he stressed, saying it will likely be a year before anyone is sure the danger has passed.

Drought wiped out much of Somalia’s crops, and herds of camels and goats perished. But the arrival of seasonal rains has pumped new life into Dolo, a river town on the Ethiopian border.

Now, small herds of goats frolic near Dolo’s yellow flowering bushes. Camels munch on green shrubs outside town, and donkeys drink puddles of muddy water.

A camp on the edge of town is home to 5,000 people, mostly women and children who fled the famine in other parts of Somalia. Somalis have also crowded into refugee camps in the capital, Mogadishu.

A Somali U.N. worker, Abdi Nur, said many of the men at the Dolo camp have returned home to plant crops. But many of the women said they won’t join them.

“I don’t want to go back,” said Hafida Mamood, 62. “There’s no security and no animals. We don’t want to go anywhere. The food is here.”

Other women nodded in agreement. “I want to stay here because of the security,” said Fahim Mohamed Mahmood, a mother of four.

Nearby, barefoot children played, ducking behind the colorful robes of the women as aid workers and journalists moved through the camp, dotted with rows of stick huts draped with with tarps, blankets and cloth. In the distance, people filled large water containers at a central water point.

Challiss McDonough, a World Food Program spokeswoman, said the displaced Somalis “have to feel physically secure and have a livelihood that will allow them to make ends meet” in their home regions.

Somalia’s famine has been made more severe by al-Shabab militants who control the country’s south and have impeded the work of aid agencies, including WFP.

Kenyan forces moved into southern Somalia last month to battle al-Shabab, and some Somalis have fled that fighting. The military intervention is also preventing some food supplies from being delivered.

Alinovi said the conflict could keep food production down, despite the new rains. This rainy season, if all goes well, will only supply about 30 percent of Somalia’s food needs.

“Where conflict increases, farmers do not go to plant. They stay out of their field. If this happens things will get worse and worse,” Alinovi said.

Kenyan troops in Somalia are trying to move toward the al-Shabab-controlled port town of Kismayo, but their advance has been slowed by rain. Ethiopian troops over the last week have also moved into Somalia.

Security is not a concern for the refugees in Dolo, which is under the security umbrella of Ethiopia.

On Monday, Alinovi visited an FAO-funded irrigation project on the outskirts of Dolo that has allowed 20 families to plant and harvest.

Keynan Ibrahim, a 20-year-old Somali who took part in the project, said he helped clear trees and bushes from the fields in early 2010 so food could be planted.

“They were able to continue to produce even during the drought. They’ve been selling their food ... and they didn’t need any support from others,” he said. “This is a very good example of what should be happening all across Somalia.”

Somali women displaced by drought, wait to receive rations at a camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of Somalis have already died in the worst hunger emergency in a generation.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya — Tens of thousands of Somalis are feared dead in the world’s worst famine in a generation, the U.N. said Wednesday, and the U.S. said it will allow emergency funds to be spent in areas controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants as long as the fighters do not interfere with aid distributions.

Exhausted, rail-thin women are stumbling into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia with dead babies and bleeding feet, having left weaker family members behind along the way.

“Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years,” said Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s top official in charge of humanitarian aid in Somalia. “This desperate situation requires urgent action to save lives ... it’s likely that conditions will deteriorate further in six months.”

Oxfam said $1 billion is needed for famine relief. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced an additional $28 million in emergency funding on top of the $431 million in assistance already given this year.

The Horn of Africa is suffering a devastating drought compounded by war, neglect, poor land policies and spiraling prices. Some areas in the region have not had such a low rainfall in 60 years, aid group Oxfam said.

In some areas of Somalia, six people are dying a day and more than half of children are acutely malnourished, Bowden said. Prices of staple foods have increased 270 percent over the last year, compounding the misery.

Somalia’s civil war is partly to blame, said Joakim Gundel, who heads Katuni Consult, a Nairobi-based company often asked to evaluate international aid efforts in Somalia.

He said aid groups found fundraising easier if they blamed natural disaster rather admitting the emergency was partly caused by a complex, 20-year civil war worsened by international apathy and incompetence.

“There is no clear cut answer,” he said. “People are suffering and there is a need to respond. But drought is not the only cause. Conflict is a key reason and it is not being addressed properly.”

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: US sends famine-relief aid to Somalia