Attacks on the Press 2005: Somalia

SOMALIA A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was mandated by a peace conference of warlords and political leaders to restore order to Somalia, which has been without an effective central government since 1991. But the TFG split and political rivalries sparked violence, especially in the capital, Mogadishu.

Amid ongoing lawlessness, impunity, and increased political tension, journalists faced threats, censorship, arbitrary detentions, and murder. Two journalists were killed and one narrowly escaped assassination. Attacks came from “warlords, regional administrations, independent militias, clan-built Islamic courts, armed business groups, and bands of soldiers,” according to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

Somalia was carved into rival, clan-based fiefdoms following the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. The south remained subject to violence and insecurity in 2005. The self-declared republic of Somaliland in the northwest, and the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast were relatively stable.

Private radio stations have proliferated in Mogadishu and elsewhere, but many continue to struggle to cover Somali issues across regional and clan divides, and to shake off accusations of clan bias. Attacks on the press increased as the TFG split. TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf, a Puntlander, refused to move to Mogadishu for security reasons, and Mogadishu-based TFG leaders remained in the capital.

Kate Peyton of the BBC, one of several foreign reporters who entered the country to cover the peace process in early 2005, was killed in Mogadishu in January, shocking the journalist community. Peyton was shot from a passing car outside the well-guarded Sahafi Hotel, where other foreign journalists were also staying. Local sources said Peyton, a Briton who had lived in Africa for 10 years, may have been targeted to discourage foreigners and to maintain a climate of insecurity.

In June, radio journalist Duniya Muhyadin Nur was shot dead while covering a protest in Afgoye, 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Mogadishu. She was a reporter for the Mogadishu-based radio station Capital Voice, owned by the HornAfrik media company.

In May, veteran journalist Abdallah Nurdin Ahmad, who also works for HornAfrik, was wounded when an unidentified gunman opened fire at close range outside the snack bar Nurdin operated in Mogadishu. The same month, at least two journalists were injured in a huge blast at a Mogadishu stadium, where they were covering a rally by TFG Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. At least 15 people were killed in the blast and dozens were injured, according to news reports.

Executives of NUSOJ (formerly the Somali Journalists Network) complained of death threats via anonymous phone calls during the run-up to a NUSOJ General Assembly in Mogadishu in August. They said unidentified, heavily armed militia members were cruising around the organization’s premises.

In August, HornAfrik reporter Abdullahi Kulmiye Adow was imprisoned in Jowhar, 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of Mogadishu, for five days by a militia loyal to local faction leader Mohamed Dhere. Dhere is a supporter of TFG President Yusuf, who had recently established a temporary headquarters in Jowhar. Yusuf was appointed interim president in 2004 following two years of peace talks.

Adow was released without charge but was expelled from the town. Speaking through an interpreter, Adow told CPJ that he was transported out of Jowhar under armed guard and told not to return. Adow’s arrest came after he reported that TFG officials had taken over Jowhar school buildings for their operations, displacing some 1,500 students. HornAfrik told CPJ that the station considered it too dangerous to send a reporter back to Jowhar to cover the TFG leadership’s activities there. TFG institutions are supposed to oversee disarmament, demobilization, and a reunification of the country under a loose federal arrangement.

In Puntland, journalists who dared criticize the regional authorities or the TFG were frequently intimidated, imprisoned, and censored. TFG President Yusuf continued to wield considerable influence in Puntland, according to local sources.

Puntland authorities harassed the critical weekly newspaper Shacab (Voice of the People). In April, Shacab editor Abdi Farah Nur and reporter Abdirashid Qoransey were detained, tried, and acquitted on charges of incitement and insulting the president. Those charges were based on a mid-April article suggesting that citizens with complaints about the Puntland government contact their representatives in Parliament, and on a reader’s letter criticizing authorities, according to Farah.

In May, authorities issued a decree ordering Shacab “temporarily suspended” for publishing unspecified articles that they claimed could lead to unrest. In June, police arrested Farah after Shacab tried to resume publication in defiance of the ban. Farah was released without charge after two and a half weeks but then fled the country, fearing for his life.

Puntland officials exerted pressure on radio stations in the region to avoid coverage of controversial political issues such as whether neighboring states should be allowed to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia, according to NUSOJ and other local sources. They said members of the public had criticized the government’s stance on such issues during radio talk shows. Sources told CPJ that, at a press conference in Bossasso in April, Deputy Information Minister Ibrahim Artan Ismail threatened to ban call-in shows. These sources said that the talk shows were continuing but tended to focus on social rather than political issues.

In Somaliland, which declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 but has not won international recognition, the government kept the media on a tight leash. Private radio stations were banned. In March, two reporters for government-owned Radio Hargeisa were fired after they were accused of working for Horyaal Radio, a pro-opposition station based in London. Horyaal had begun broadcasting into Somaliland via shortwave and the Internet only days earlier, according to CPJ sources.