The situation of journalists in Somalia is becoming increasingly precarious as the country struggles to put behind it years of lawlessness following the recent successful election of a new president.
“So far, 13 journalists have been killed and 19 others wounded this year, and the killings may continue if something is not done promptly,” Abdirashid Del, a senior member of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), told IRIN, noting that political transitions often heighten security risks for journalists in Somalia.
Two more journalists were on 27 and 28 September killed by armed men in Mogadishu, according to reports, which were confirmed by NUSOJ. The dead included a sports journalist with the web-based ciyaarahamaanta.com and a correspondent attached to the Saba News Agency.
The deaths of journalists in Somalia, in targeted assassinations and explosions, have largely been blamed on Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab militants.
“Al-Shabab may be part of the problem, but I cannot categorically say that they are responsible because we are not a court that can decide what happened. There is a need for more investigations to ascertain who is involved and why this is happening [at] such an alarming rate,” Del said.
“Although we think that [the] government has not been involved, [the] security responsibility lies on them because protecting the lives of the people is one of the primary functions of the government,” he added.
Most dangerous place
On 20 September, three journalists were killed and five others wounded after two suicide bombers targeted a popular restaurant in Mogadishu’s Hamer Wayne District.
The following day, radio journalist Hassan Yusuf Absuge was shot dead near the station’s offices in Mogadishu’s Yaqshiid District.
“I thought about abandoning my job or leaving the country to a safer place like Nairobi or Hargeisa [capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland], but I changed my mind after colleagues advised me to stay. Imagine losing four journalists in two days!” Hussein Abdulle Mohamed, a radio journalist, told IRIN.
“When your colleague is killed, the biggest question is: who is next?”
Abdulllahi Mohamed Ali, also known as Suldan, told IRIN that he would continue working as a journalist in Mogadishu despite getting injured and losing close friends. “Death is inevitable and everyone has a pre-destined time [to die], whether you are in Washington or in Mogadishu.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks Somalia as the most dangerous place for journalists to work in Africa.
“We do not know our enemy. We are just like cornered sheep in a pen. Somebody comes at the time of their convenience and slaughters one after the other,” said Suldan, adding that the future of the media in Somalia cannot be viewed separately from that of the country. “There can never be a green branch on a tree when the tree has no stem.”
Government-run media houses have not been spared. “We experienced [a] much more dangerous period when we could hardly move because Al-Shabab was ruling most parts of the capital. I was fully aware of the dangers I was facing when I joined Radio Mogadishu. I came here because I wanted a platform where I could help the country,” journalist Abdifitah Dahir Jeyte told IRIN.
|When your colleague is killed, the biggest question is: who is next!|
Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle, a journalist with the newly launched Radio Goobjoog, urged journalists in Somalia to remain impartial while operating in a hostile environment where big stories mean big dangers.
“There is a big question mark on the future of the media in Somalia because the line between impartiality and bias is being increasing blurred,” he said. “The government tells us that we cannot remain impartial when it comes to issues of national interest while Al-Shabab tells us that we can never be impartial between the right and the wrong. The time when a journalist could report all sides of the story is gradually disappearing.”
During Al-Shabab’s occupation of Mogadishu, broadcasters were even banned from airing music, an edict they responded to with some irony.
Despite the 2011 announcement of the withdrawal of Al-Shabab from Mogadishu, the Somalia capital has remained dangerous. But this has not affected the vibrant print and broadcast sector there, with at least 20 radio stations operating in Mogadishu alone.
Reacting to the latest killings, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a 24 September statement urged the new government to adopt measures to provide better protection for journalists.
“Somalia’s journalists have long topped the lists of targets by all sides during the country’s brutal civil war,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy director of HRW’s Africa division. “The new Somali president can act to end this horrific pattern by ordering prompt and serious investigations into these killings.”
According to HRW, Al-Shabab told the media that their supporters had carried out the 20 September attacks but claimed they did not order it.
Warsame Mohamed Hassan, a Banadir Region deputy mayor for security affairs said, “Journalists are among the invaluable people we are losing to Al-Shabab, and we will do all we can to protect not only them but all Somali citizens as well.”
No perpetrator has ever been prosecuted for killing a journalist in Somalia; CPJ’s 2012 Impunity Index lists Somalia among countries “where journalists are slain and killers go free.”