Attacks on the Press 2000: Somalia

WITH NO FUNCTIONING CENTRAL GOVERNMENT IN RECENT YEARS, Somalia remains fractured into rival fiefdoms controlled by warlords. Threats to local journalists have been correspondingly decentralized. In the last months of 2000, however, newly-elected president Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and a new transitional legislature tried with some success to assert central authority. (Both Hassan and the legislature were elected by a citizens’ assembly that met in neighboring Djibouti in August.)

On January 26, local radio journalist Ahmed Kafi Awale was killed when thieves fleeing guards at a Mogadishu market shot into a crowd in order to clear their way. He was the first journalist killed on the job in Somalia since 1995.

Several small private radio and television stations opened during the year, most owned by local warlords. Broadcasting irregularly in Somali, Arabic, English, and French, they ranged from free radio and television broadcasts to pay-per-view and subscription cable television services that were beyond the reach of most Somalis. In Mogadishu, the nominal capital, there were six radio stations and four daily newspapers in operation, along with more than 30 occasional news pamphlets.

Horn Afrik, which launched in 1999, is currently Somalia’s only independent broadcaster. Partly owned by local businessman Ali Iman, the station has come to “embody a significant component of the democratic trend [in Somalia],” according to The Washington Post. Other broadcasters are the mouthpieces of militias, regional governments, or clans. Radio Hargeisa, for instance, is the official voice of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region in the northern part of the country.

Like Somaliland, the northern region of Puntland has refused to acknowledge the central government, asserting the separate administrative status that it enjoyed during the colonial era. Elsewhere in the country, many powerful warlords have been equally reluctant to support Hassan’s presidency.

On June 11, reporter Mohammed Abdulkadir Ahmed of the Puntland weekly Sahan was abducted and beaten by police agents who confined him in a metal container for four hours. The incident apparently resulted from a July opinion piece in which Ahmed criticized Puntland authorities for boycotting the Djibouti peace talks. In early October, Puntland authorities also detained Bile Mahmud Qabowsadeh, a journalist at the newspaper Yool, as he was returning from the Djibouti talks. He was later released without charges.

Ahmed Kafi Awale, Radio of the Somali People

Awale, a reporter for the private station Radio of the Somali People, owned by South Mogadishu warlord Hussein Mohamed Aidid, was killed by a stray bullet while on assignment at Bakara market in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Three other people were killed during the incident, and seven others badly injured, as thieves escaping from market guards shot at random to clear their way.

Mohammed Abdulkadir Ahmed, Sahan

Police in the autonomous Puntland Republic region of Somalia abducted local newspaper editor Ahmed, beat him, and then confined him in a metal container for four hours. He was subsequently released without charge.

Ahmed, editor of the private weekly Sahan in the Puntland capital, Bossasso, told CPJ that his July 11 abduction and beating was the fourth such incident in the past year. It was likely prompted by an early July editorial that accused Puntland authorities of not doing enough to help stabilize the war-torn country.