Witnesses say government soldier killed Somali reporter

New York, January 2, 2009–A government soldier killed Radio Shabelle reporter Hassan Mayow Hassan, shooting the veteran journalist twice in the head after stopping him in the Somali town of Afgoye on Thursday morning, three local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists today. The journalists said they had interviewed witnesses to the killing. 

“The transitional government must do everything it can to immediately investigate this killing, and the international community must take greater responsibility to ensure the safety of all civilians, including journalists,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes. “While the Somali government may not control much of the country, in this case it has the ability and the responsibility to hold its own troops to account.”

Minister of Information Ahmed Abdisalam said he was told that Hassan had been killed in crossfire between two armed groups in Afgoye. “If there is any evidence of wrongdoing by a government soldier or officer, we will investigate,” he told CPJ.

The three local journalists interviewed today by CPJ offered a different account. These journalists said they spoke with witnesses who reported that soldiers stopped Hassan in Afgoye, a town 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Mogadishu, and accused him of collaborating with Islamic insurgent groups. One journalist said witnesses were able to name the soldier who shot Hassan. Earlier Thursday morning, Hassan had aired a report on Radio Shabelle that described civilians fleeing violence in Mogadishu, a station editor, Abdi Nasir, told CPJ. Local journalists told CPJ that Hassan had produced critical stories about the army’s harassment of civilians in the area.

Hassan was en route to a news conference in Afgoye when the killing occurred, Nasir told CPJ. “We will greatly miss our colleague,” he said. “Hassan was a humanitarian who worked tirelessly to report on the conditions of civilians and the humanitarian situation in the Lower Shabelle region.” Hassan, 36, is survived by a wife and five children.

Ten Somali journalists have been killed in the last two years, two from Radio Shabelle alone. Bashiir Noor Gedi, a Radio Shabelle manager, was murdered outside his home in Mogadishu in October 2007, CPJ reported at the time. Somali journalists are working under extreme duress as the conflict between a near powerless transitional government and insurgent groups continues. Somalia is the seventh deadliest nation in the world for the press, according to CPJ research.