Somalia: Pressure Mounts on Journalists as Killings Continue

by Brody Engelhard    /  April 23, 2012  / No comments

The cover of the National Union of Somali Journalists' 2010 press freedom report. 'Mouth Murder' refers to widespread telephone and face-to-face death threats made against journalists in the country.

So far in 2012 four journalists have been killed in Somalia. This number already equals the total number of journalists killed in the country in 2011. Journalist Abdi Latif Dahir, a Kenyan writer who covers Somalia, explained to Sampsoina Way via email that “In a span of just under four months, with the killings, maiming, and harassment recorded so far, Somalia is already leading the world as [one of] the worst [countries] to work as a journalist.”

A political map of Somalia, circa March 27, 2012. The semi-autonomous state of Puntland is demarcated by the dotted orange line. (click image to enlarge)

According to Dahir, it is common knowledge that Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant Islamist cell with ties to Al Qaeda, is behind many of the attacks on journalists. While in control of much of southern Somalia, over the last two years Al-Shabaab has increased its operations and infiltrated Puntland and Somaliland, two semi-autonomous states within the country. Before this, when compared to the rest of the country, these semi-autonomous states were considered to be relatively stable places for journalists to operate. According to Dahir, in this environment journalists in Puntland and Somaliland developed the confidence “to report without fear, with the notion that the worst that could happen was for them to be jailed or their work stations closed down. However, with the infiltration of Al-Shabaab sympathizers into Puntland and Somaliland … journalists’ lives are now in danger in [all parts of the country].”

The last two years have truly marked difficult times for journalists in Somalia as pressure not only comes from Al-Shabaab, but also from local and national governments. In 2010 the Puntland Cabinet approved new counterterrorism law, which, while instituted as a part of Puntland’s strategy to protect against insurgent groups like Al-Shabaab, has been used to arrest and hold journalists without charge. For reporting on Al-Shabaab and government corruption numerous journalists have been detained without charge, and radio and television stations have been shut down. Multiple journalists have also been detained in Somaliland and held without charges.

  1. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”
  2. According to CPJ, Somalia is the most dangerous country in Africa for journalists. “Somali journalists are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Tom Rhodes, a consultant on East Africa for CPJ. “Critical reporting on the militias and, as the murder [of Hassan Osman Abdi] seems to indicate, the government, can lead to imprisonment, even death.”

    Reporters Without Borders ranks Somalia 164 out of 179 on their Press Freedom Index 2011-12—two spots above Egypt and one below Sri Lanka.

Impunity for crimes against the press is also a problem that has resulted in rumors and dissatisfaction with the government. According to Dahir, “the Somali Transitional Federal Government has been accused of having a hand in some of the [journalists'] killings, and the media fraternity in Somalia have lamented the fact that the governments have not undertaken any serious investigations.” In 2011 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Somalia second on it’s annual Impunity Index.

Despite the conditions in Somalia, journalists persistently continue their work and investigation, but Dahir says that they lack caution, and have little war reporting training. However, he adds, “There are only so many precautions you can take in a society where almost every other party sees the journalist as a problem rather than a solution. But fearless and fair reporting cannot be substituted for somebody’s life.”

Below Sampsonia Way presents the Somali journalists who were killed in 2012.

Photo of Hassan Osman Abdi, Director of Shabelle Media Network

January 28: Hassan Osman Abdi is shot five times in an ambush at his home in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He was the director of Shabelle Media Network, a Somali based news network. According to the information minister he was head of “one of the most important and pioneering media houses serving the country.” Abdi had recently aired a controversial investigative report detailing alleged corruption in Mogadishu’s seaport.

To journalist Abdi Latif Dahir, the Kenyan writer who covers Somalia, the death of Hassan symbolizes an alarming trend for Somali journalists: “One of the exiled journalists who worked with Hassan Abdi told me that because journalists have ‘grown over the years in Somalia’ and ‘they have gotten used to the bullets and guns’ they ‘take this issue lightly’…He told me that a few days before Hassan was killed, some people told him that there were men who were roaming close to his home. He regretted the fact that Hassan was killed just hours after they talked over the phone, when he urged him ‘to take care, and not to stay at his place for a couple of nights.’”

Photo of Ali Ahmed Abdi, Programming Manager of Radio Galkayo and Writer for the online publication Puntlandi

February 28: Radio journalist Abukar Hassan is shot five times in the head and chest in Mogadishu. He succumbs to his wounds at Medina Hospital shortly after the attack. Before his death Hassan had begun to reconstruct a private radio station that Al-Shabaab insurgents had looted and raided in 2010. Hassan’s family members and colleagues believe he was killed for trying to reconstruct the station.

March 5: Radio journalist Ali Ahmed Abdi is killed by three armed gunman in Puntland. About a month before his murder, Abdi resigned from his position as programming manager of Radio Galkayo, where he had worked for several years, and as a writer for the online publication Puntlandi, where he worked for approximately a year as a columnist. Sources indicate Abdi was planning on moving to Uganda to persue higher education.

Photo of Mahad Salad Adan, Editor of Radio Voice of Hiran and Reporter for Radio Shabelle

April 5: Gunmen shoot Mahad Salad Adan, 22, near his home in the village of Howlwadag. He worked as the editor of the independent Radio Voice of Hiran, and as a reporter for Radio Shabelle. His colleagues reported to the National Union of Somali Journalists that he was receiving death threats from Al-Shabaab since March when Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government forces took control over the Hiran region in the central portion of the country.

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Read The Lives and Rights of Journalists Under Threat: The State of Press Freedom in Somalia
Read Tom Rhodes’ report on Journalism in Somalia

Read Abdi Latif Dahir’s story about exiled Somali journalists reflecting on hardship.

About the Author

Brody Engelhard is an editorial intern at Sampsonia Way. He will graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in English Writing Nonfiction. As a student, he worked as a reporter at The Pitt News and 92.1 WPTS Pittsburgh’s Progressive FM. He has done work in blogging and micro blogging and a multitude of multimedia pieces.

View all articles by Brody Engelhard

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