Only due process, transparency will end Somali impunity

Last week, as Egypt plunged deeper into political violence, CPJ recorded a sad statistic: the death of the 1,000th journalist in the line of duty since we began keeping records in 1992. While that benchmark death came amid a military raid, seven out of 10 killed journalists were in fact murdered in reprisal for their work– and the killers have evaded justice in almost all of those cases, our research shows. 

Since launching our Global Campaign Against Impunity in 2007, CPJ has undertaken advocacy efforts targeting countries where the problem is particularly acute. We seek and often obtain top-level commitments to provide adequate protection by law enforcement, investigate journalist murders, and prosecute not only the assassins but the masterminds. In the rare instances where governments develop both the political will and technical capacity to fully investigate killings and bring the culprits to justice, the silencing cycle is broken.

One country where perpetual impunity remains a huge impediment to a free press is Somalia, where over the past decade, 24 journalist murders have gone unsolved. Last year was the deadliest, with 12 journalists murdered; at least two have been confirmed murdered in 2013. Anti-press violence is so acute in conflict-ridden Somalia that in the past five years, 70 journalists have been forced to flee the country for their safety, CPJ research shows. Among the 2012 victims of violence was Hassan Yusuf Absuge, a reporter and producer with the privately-owned Radio Maanta.

This past Saturday, Somali authorities executed Aden Sheikh Abdi, the man found by a local court to be Hassan’s murderer. In a statement to the Associated Press, a CPJ representative made comments that could be construed as supportive of the execution in the first such case to be resolved in Somalia. Yet, although the case represents a step forward in that it ends the absolute indifference of authorities to the habitual killing of journalists, the trial left much to be desired in terms of due process. In fact, long before this final outcome, local journalists had expressed skepticism of the court’s findings because of due process violations and the presence of some exculpatory evidence.

As an organization that advocates for the basic human right to receive and impart information and opinions without obstruction, CPJ respects each government’s decisions on what is deemed adequate punishment within their own justice systems, but is not supportive of the death penalty as a way to deliver justice and build security for journalists who are targeted in reprisal for their work. On the same day that Abdi was executed, another journalist was shot dead in Mogadishu.

CPJ believes that a sure path toward justice for murdered journalists requires thorough investigations, transparency, and due process. Only such measures can further the rule of law and eventually make it safe to report on the powerful forces and taboo topics that affect the local population on a daily basis, in Somalia and around the world.