With 18 killed this year, ‘lawless’ Somalia is the deadliest post for media workers
Saturday, December 08, 2012
By: Stewart Bell
Mohamed Mohamud Turyare, who was shot as he left a Mogadishu mosque. He was one of 18 reporters and media workers killed in Somalia so far this year.
Mohamed Mohamud Turyare was walking home from a Mogadishu mosque on Oct. 21 when two gunmen shot him in the stomach. Doctors were preparing to transfer the 22-year-old Radio Shabelle reporter out of the country for treatment when he died a week later.
Somalia has long been unsafe for journalists but now it’s worse than ever. With 18 reporters and media workers killed so far this year, it is the most dangerous dateline in Africa. And while foreign journalists are sometimes targeted, it is locals who are most at risk.
A report released last week by the National Union of Somali Journalists listed 44 reporters killed since 2007 and said another 250 had fled after receiving death threats. Those remaining are struggling to do their jobs in a country hostile to their profession.
“It has reduced journalists into silence, damaged the quality of independent reporting and instilled fear in the hearts of journalists who would dare to report on critical issues,” Omar Faruk Osman, secretary-general of the Somali journalists’ union, said in an email.
The killings began to mount after the start of the latest stage of Somalia’s long-running armed conflict. In 2007, radical Islamists affiliated with al-Qaeda formed Al-Shabab to wage what they call a jihad. Ever since, they have been fighting to impose their imported version of Islamic law on Somalis.
Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al-Shabab went after media outlets that criticized its ideology or resisted its bans on music and sports. Even Warsame Shire Awale, a radio broadcaster, poet and playwright, was murdered for mocking Al-Shabab.
While Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, the report said government authorities and their supporters had also sought to silence reporters. Given Somalia’s almost total lawlessness, the killers are hardly ever brought to justice.
“Political interference has eroded the independence of law enforcement institutions. Thus, proper and credible investigations into the killings of journalists, to identify the culprits and bring them to trial have consistently failed,” the report said.
“In southern Somalia, militias are paid by politicians and interested parties to attack journalists and media houses.”
Two-thirds of the killings have taken place in the capital Mogadishu. Almost 75% of the dead had received death threats beforehand — a practice known locally as “mouth-murdering.” Most worked for radio stations, the primary source of news for Somalis.
Ali Iman Sharmarke, a Somali-Canadian who left his federal government job in Ottawa to found HornAfrik Radio, was returning from the funeral of another journalist on Aug. 11, 2007, when a remotely detonated landmine exploded and he was killed.
The report, Impunity: The War against Somalia’s Journalists, called on the government to condemn the attacks, investigate the killings so far and outlaw crimes against journalists. It also asked foreign aid donors to pressure Somalia to protect journalists.
After seven deaths in September and three in October, none were recorded in November.
A military campaign backed by Kenya has pushed Al-Shabab back and calm has been returning to the ruined capital. But it is likely too soon to declare the worst over.
“Here we need political will from the political figures, which is translated into practical actions that protect journalist,” said Mr. Osman, whose union has been holding safety workshops for reporters.
“Killers of journalists are enjoying impunity and they should not be allowed to do so.”