Attacks on the Press in 2008: Somalia

Anarchic violence gripped a nation sadly accustomed to chaos and suffering as a weak federal government sought to fend off insurgencies in the south and central parts of the country. Two reporters were killed in the southern port city of Kismayo in 2008, continuing a national pattern of violence against the press that has claimed the lives of nine journalists in two years. At least 21 Somali reporters have gone into exile, according to CPJ data, although the National Union of Somali Journalists estimates that dozens more have fled their homes in fear of reprisals. The risks grew deeper still in 2008 with two kidnappings involving five journalists, three of whom were still being held for ransom in late year.

The year began with encouraging words and signals for the press. In January, Prime Minister Nur Hassan told reporters that his government would “make sure violations against the free press are over,” and he named Ahmed Abdisalam, co-founder of the independent news company HornAfrik, as his deputy prime minister and minister of information. Just two months later, Abdisalam told CPJ that “the media environment in Mogadishu is more challenging than ever.”

The challenges facing the Transitional Federal Government, which was backed by Ethiopian troops and supported by the U.S. government, were substantial and multifaceted. The government struggled to maintain control. By late year, it clung to Mogadishu and the central town of Baidoa, but loosely aligned Islamist insurgent groups controlled most of south and central Somalia. The United Nations mediated a peace deal between the government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia in June, but the hard-line Al-Shabaab insurgency opposed the agreement. Civilians and journalists continued to be targeted by all sides in the conflict, with Al-Shabaab militants and Ethiopian troops blamed for some of the worst human rights abuses. Many thousands of civilians have died, and more than a million have been displaced by the violence, according to human rights groups and U.N. figures.

Hassan Kafi Hared, 38, a reporter for the Somali National News Agency, was killed in January during a midday attack on a medical assistance vehicle in Kismayo, according to news reports and local journalists. A remotely detonated landmine destroyed a Medecins Sans Frontières-Holland vehicle, killing two aid workers and the driver. Guards with the aid organization opened fire in the area after the explosion, local journalists told CPJ. Hared and a young boy, who were walking near the vehicle, died. It was not clear whether Hared died from the explosion or from gunshots; both bullet and mine shrapnel wounds were found on his body, local journalists said.

Hared’s death was recounted by fellow Somali journalist Nasteh Dahir Farah in a column that appeared in the spring edition of CPJ’s magazine, Dangerous Assignments. Just weeks later, Farah was dead. Farah, 27, vice president of the National Union of Somali Journalists and a contributor to several local and international news outlets, was shot by two men in Kismayo as he walked home from an Internet café in June. In a follow-up report, the journalists union said Farah had been killed by insurgents in reprisal for his work.

In May, insurgents opened fire on Bisharo Mohammed Waeys, an anchor for the privately owned Eastern Television Network, while she was driving home. She was not injured. Mohammed, who was based in the port town of Bossasso in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland, told CPJ that she quit her job and left the country after the attack and a series of threatening text messages. Station Director Abdiwali Sheikh Ahmed said two other editors had also received threatening e-mails from the address “shabab114.”

Canadian Amanda Lindhout, Australian Nigel Brennan, and Somali Abdifatah Mohamed were returning from interviews with refugees at Celasha Biyaha when they were kidnapped along the Afgoye-Mogadishu road in August, according to news accounts and CPJ sources. The three, all freelancers, were being held for ransom in late year, multiple sources told CPJ. Two international journalists, British reporter Colin Freeman and Spanish photographer José Cendon, were abducted after leaving their Bossasso hotel in late November. On assignment for London’s Daily Telegraph, the two were working on stories about piracy in the Gulf of Aden region. Freeman and Cendon were released without injury in January 2009.

“The situation has very much deteriorated,” said Emilio Manfredi, a freelance Italian journalist. Manfredi said a reporting trip in Mogadishu required 10 armed guards and three cars in November; the same type of assignment in early year, while still dangerous, required three guards and one car.

CPJ documented 21 cases of government harassment during the year, including detentions of journalists and the closing of media outlets. In March, government troops raided three private radio stations in Mogadishu’s volatile Bakara Market after heavy fighting in the area. Journalists from HornAfrik, Radio Shabelle, and Radio Simba told CPJ that soldiers had seized computers, mixers, microphones, and other equipment. All three stations resumed broadcasting soon after. Local journalists said they believed the raids were intended to prevent the stations from reporting on looting by government soldiers in the central Howl-Waadaag district. Information Minister Abdisalam denied responsibility for the raids.

Insurgents censored radio stations as well. Radio Markabley, a station in southwest Somalia, was shut down by insurgent forces in December after it played songs during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, the journalist union reported.

Until late year, the self-declared northern republic of Somaliland was spared the daily violence that tore though the rest of the country. In October, three bomb attacks killed 19 people in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. State security agents detained freelance journalist Hadis Mohammed for two weeks without explanation after he had reported on the bombings. Several other Somaliland journalists were arbitrarily detained and harassed by security forces throughout the year.

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