Attacks on the Press 2003: Somalia

Somalia has had no effective central authority since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. A peace agreement in 2000, which led to the installation of the weak Transitional National Government (TNG) in the capital, Mogadishu, fueled the revival of independent media, including local radio stations, newspapers, and Internet sites. Somalia’s high rate of illiteracy means that radio continues to be the most effective form of communication.

Local journalists said the biggest problem they face is violence. It makes objective coverage of all Somali territories almost impossible, they say, and puts reporters at constant risk. For example, on January 24, journalist Abdullahi Madkeer, of Democratic Media Concern (DMC) Radio, was accidentally shot in the stomach by a faction of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) while covering the reopening of Baidoa Airport in the southwest. The airport had been closed for months because of fighting between rival RRA factions. According to Somali journalists’ organizations, militia members fired on the crowd at the airport to protect a cargo of khat, a narcotic plant. Madkeer was taken to the hospital, but doctors refused to operate on him because he was HIV-positive. He died later that day.

Hornafrik, a well-respected Mogadishu-based radio station founded in 1999, said it was forced off the air on January 10 when militiamen stormed its offices. Journalists said the takeover stemmed from a Hornafrik news item that quoted a book alleging that businessman Mohamed Daylaf had financial ties with the militant Islamic group Al-Ittihad al-Islamia. The siege ended later that night, after local elders intervened to mediate between the gunmen and the station’s staff.

Somalia is still fragmented into rival fiefdoms, with some areas enjoying relative stability and security, while others remain subject to lawlessness and outbreaks of fighting. Peace talks involving the TNG and faction leaders that began in Kenya in October 2002 raised hopes of reunification, but the negotiations have made little progress and were ongoing after more than a year. The self-declared Republic of Somaliland has refused invitations to join the talks.

There is at least some authority in Mogadishu, in Somaliland in the northwest, and in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland. Unfortunately, authorities in these regions have shown a tendency to repress the media and, in some cases, have directly threatened and harassed journalists.

For example, in April, TNG militia came looking for Internet journalist Omar Faruk Osman, according to witnesses, after the Web site he worked for in Mogadishu,, posted a controversial photograph. The photo showed the heads of TNG President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and several faction leaders pasted on the bodies of soccer players, with a caption presenting them as the “team” responsible for the failure of peace in Somalia. Faruk told CPJ he had received warnings before from the TNG’s presidential staff. He went into hiding for several days, and on April 20, he fled to Kenya.

In Puntland, journalists’ organizations said that the mayor of the city of Galkayo ordered the detention of Adan Nur Mohamed, editor of Yameyska Weekly Press, and Dahir Abdulkadir Ahmed, of the weekly Bulsho, after they published an article about the allegedly corrupt sale of state property by a local politician. On August 23, authorities detained the journalists for about 30 hours and then released them.

In Somaliland, authorities maintain a tight grip on the broadcast media, with state-owned Radio Hargeisa still the only station allowed to carry news. Private radio remains banned, pending the continually delayed adoption of licensing regulations.

Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 but has not obtained international recognition. Somaliland has managed to maintain relative peace and stability in recent years and in 2003 held its first multiparty presidential elections. The election results were contested, with incumbent President Dahir Riyale Kahin declared the winner by only 80 votes. The authorities’ control of the broadcast media helped the ruling party during the elections by ensuring that the majority of the population received pro-government news.

Somaliland authorities have also moved against critical print content. On October 20, police detained Hassan Said Yusuf, editor of the daily newspaper Jamhuuriya, for nine hours in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, and accused him of publishing information that was “not good for the government.”

In early July, the Somaliland government tabled a new press law that would, according to the independent research and analysis organization International Crisis Group, proscribe media “interference” in politics, religion, or culture; impose an annual tax on journalists; assign responsibility for the admission of foreign journalists to an interministerial committee; and permit the courts to order the temporary suspension of media licenses. The Somaliland Journalists Association has strongly protested the bill.