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Senior US Official Calls for Release of VOA Somali Stringer Held without Charge in Puntland

A senior U.S. official is calling for the release of a VOA Somali stringer who was arrested more than a week ago in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland

Washington, D.C., December 29, 2009 – A senior U.S. official is calling for the release of Mohamed Yasin Isahaq, a Voice of America Somali stringer who was arrested more than a week ago in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland and is being held without charge.

“We have been in contact with Puntland authorities immediately after his arrest became known,” said U.S. Counselor for Somali Affairs Robert Patterson during an interview with VOA’s Somali service. “It seems to us that he has been arrested for doing work that was entirely consistent with that done by journalists, we have asked for an explanation and for his release as soon as possible.”

Patterson also told VOA that the response from Puntland officials was not what was hoped for. “We have not been given direct indication on whether he could be charged,” said Patterson. He added, “There did not seem to be any inclination to release Mr. Isahaq.”

Heavily armed vehicles operated by the government’s Puntland Intelligence Services (PIS) surrounded the stringer’s house on Sunday, December 20 and took Mr. Isahaq into custody. His arrest came just days after he reported a story for VOA on the plight of internally displaced Somalis in and around the southern part of Galkayo, Puntland.

VOA African Division Director Gwen Dillard says there is no justification for his continued detention. "Mr. Isahaq was detained while carrying out the normal professional responsibilities of a journalist. I urge the government of Puntland to respect the role of a free and independent media in Puntland and to release Mr. Isahaq," said Dillard.

Tom Rhodes, Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists told VOA, "We are very concerned about the deteriorating situation in Puntland. The government is determined to crackdown on any media. Mohammed Yasin Isahaq is the best." This is the second time Mr. Isahaq has been singled out by Puntland officials. In November, he suffered a minor chest injury after police in Galkayo opened fire on his car at a police checkpoint.

VOA’s Somali service broadcasts three and half hours of radio programming daily, seven days a week, targeting Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa region.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 125 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages. VOA is the leading U.S. international broadcaster.

For more information, please call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail