Letter from Mogadishu: Working where violence is normal

On Friday, as we welcomed the release of a journalist kidnapped in Somalia, we received a compelling account from a freelance reporter working in the capital, Mogadishu. Our colleague describes the perils of working in a city where journalists operate at the mercy of warring insurgents and government troops, and throughout Somalia, one of the world’s most dangerous nations for the press. 

The journalist asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. Here is an excerpt from his account:

Journalism is a deadly profession in a country like Somalia, which is beleaguered by a deepening crisis of political unsettlement, more than 18 years of civil unrest, clan warfare and insurgency. Somalia is where crime is normal, where no authority can limit the skyrocketing crime rate or bring criminals to justice.

Journalists are frequently killed, wounded, arrested, threatened, harassed, or abducted for ransom. Such looming conditions cast a vapor on the dreams of many journalists working in this hostile environment.

On January 1, a veteran journalist, Hassan Mayow Hassan, a Shabelle Radio correspondent in Afgoye (30 kilometers south of Mogadishu) was shot to death by a government soldier, according to eyewitnesses. Hassan was apparently shot twice in the head shortly after he left his house in Afgoye to do his daily journalism. He died at the scene, according to eyewitness accounts. Hassan, 36, left a wife and five children.

It was six months ago, when our colleague Nasteh Dahir Farah was killed in an assassination in the southern port city of Kismayo. Unknown gunmen shot him several times in the chest and stomach as he was going home.

Since 2007, at least 13 media workers have been killed in Somalia and 50 other journalists have fled to the neighboring countries for security reasons, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists. Most of them received threatening phone calls and messages. Many radio stations were closed down, while others were attacked.

The latest stations to have been silenced were HornAfrik Radio in Kismayo in the lower Jubba region and Radio Adado in the central Galgadud region. Both radios were silenced by Al-Shabaab, a hard-line Islamist armed group.

These horrible conditions we are working under frequently disrupt the free flow of information. We work in fear of reprisals for what we report. We keep working because the public has the right to know truthful news stories.