Geneva - The United Nations human rights agency on Tuesday expressed deep concern at a string of assassinations targeting media workers in Somalia and urged the government to bring the killers to justice.
"We are extremely alarmed by the continuing assault on Somalia's media workers and journalists by [the al-Qaeda linked] al -Shabaab and other elements," Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told reporters in Geneva.
He pointed to the cases of Warsame Shire Awale, a well-known musician, drama producer and comedian working for RadioKulmiye, who was attacked and killed by two gunman late Monday, and independent Shabelle radio journalist Mohamed Mohamud Turyare, who died on Sunday of gunshot wounds received last week.
Colville pointed out that the latest deaths brought to 18 the number of media workers killed in Somalia so far this year, with nine killed in the past six weeks and three in the past seven days alone.
"That's the second highest toll in the world after Syria," he said, calling on Somalia's government "to take urgent steps to protect journalists and other media workers and to end the complete impunity that has been enjoyed by their killers."
"The role of the media is crucial as Somalia tries to get back on its feet, and the continued slaughter of the country's journalists risks stifling the media's ability to contribute to an improvement in law and order and good governance," he added.
Several killings are blamed on Shabaab insurgents, but other murders are also believed to be linked to struggles within the multiple factions in power, and Colville stressed that those cases might be easier to investigate and prosecute.
Somalia has been ravaged by nearly uninterrupted civil war for the past two decades, and hardline gunmen still control large parts of the rural south and centre of the country.