Newsletter No 10 13 December 2005
News from the Media Scene:
Syrian Cyber-Dissident and Somali Union Win RSF Prizes

The 13th edition of the Reporters Without Borders-Fondation de France Prize was granted on 7 December to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and Syrian journalist Massoud Hamid in the “Defender of Press Freedom” and the “Cyber-Dissident” categories respectively.

The National Union of Somali Journalists was created in 2002 to defend journalists and press freedom in a country immersed in a sea of anarchy since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.  

Although a transitional government was set up under international supervision in Nairobi in late 2004, press freedom is weak and often battered in a country dominated by warlords. Journalists continue to work amid the chaos, on privately owned radio stations or internet websites or photocopied newspapers.

In this environment, “the NUSOJ has tackled dozens of urgent cases, doing investigations and alerting international organizations and media, as well as writing reports on media conditions in the country. It has also worked with Reporters Without Borders to give financial help to the families of murdered journalists,” said the press freedom organization.

Massoud Hamdi was arrested in July 2004 and sentenced to three years in prison for "membership of a secret organization" after posting photos of a Kurdish demonstration in Syria on a foreign-based website.

After a mockery of a trial, the state security court sentenced him on 10 October 2004 to three years in prison for “belonging to a secret organization” and “trying to annex part of Syria to another country.”

He is being held in Adra prison, in suburban Damascus. He reportedly has been in solitary confinement for a year and has been tortured several times, including being beaten on the soles of his feet with a studded whip. His feet are now completely paralyzed and he has dizziness and back problems. He is not allowed to wear glasses, which has badly damaged his sight.

Syria has no free or independent media and people depend on the government papers, radio and TV stations, which obediently relay official propaganda.