On the morning of Tuesday, October 22, 2013, Somali television journalist Mohamed Mohamud, nicknamed “Tima’ade,” was seriously wounded when unknown armed men attacked him on his way home from work. He was shot more than five times. Colleagues and local residents in Wadajir district, where the attack took place, immediately rushed him to Madina Hospital in Mogadishu.
His attack and previous assaults have increased the security concerns of journalists in the field who need greater protection and basic safety training. Every day we witness and hear unpleasant news about our dear fellow journalists. Attacks against the press in Somalia are common. Assassinations continue. Few investigations have taken place to find the perpetrators.
Intimidation and violations of human rights flourish in the absence of law and justice in Somalia. Many families live in sadness and ignorance, not knowing who killed their loved ones. We know of journalists who have died because of inadequate protection or lack of medical assistance when rushed to hospitals. A tragic, broken record is continually replayed: armed people walk free after they attack journalists; their families and media colleagues cry over their loss and government officials condemn the incidents, calling on security services to protect journalists.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud has strongly condemned the attempted assassination of Tima’ade, for instance, and has ordered security services to bring the perpetrators to justice. The president said:
We must bring to justice those responsible for the attempted assassination of Tima’ade. I also appeal to the management and the staff of Universal TV, as well as to all Somali journalists, to keep up their courageous activity to show these thugs and would-be killers that they cannot silence journalists who are doing a magnificent job in Somalia. I pray to Allah that Tima’ade will be able to recover speedily. These cowardly extremists want to show the world that Somalia is not safe and not stable. And they will fail because the cause of freedom on the one hand and journalists reporting freely on the other will prevail.
Despite such strong statements, why then, I wondered, have security services routinely failed to capture these killers? The police and criminal investigation officers are capable of arresting a rape victim in an IDP camp in Mogadishu and a journalist who interviewed her, but fail to capture the killers of the press in the nation’s capital and elsewhere.
The Somali authorities must turn their words into action so they can put the killers on trial.
Several journalists were killed this year and 12 others were murdered in 2012 as a result of doing their work. What is worse is that we aren’t even sure who is killing us. Who is it who is so determined to snuff out our voices? The government and allied AMISOM forces in Mogadishu have largely weakened the Somali hardliners known as Al-Shabaab, but their ability to target the press remains. And while Al-Shabaab is routinely labeled the guilty party, they are not the only ones threatening journalists.
Civil actors and government officials say there are other groups who target journalists. “We can’t charge only Al-Shabaab, there are also other members who attack civilians, district staffs, and journalists,” Ahmed Dai, Wadajir commissioner, told journalists on Wednesday.
Our hearts and prayers go out to those wounded reporters in hospitals, such as Tima’ade, and to their families. The journalists killed are sorely missed. However, grieving is insufficient. It’s time to end the war on journalists and capture those responsible for their deaths.
The insecurity and harassment, including threats via mobile phones, has forced many Somali journalists to leave and live in exile. CPJ’s global index of journalists in exile shows Somalia ranked as having the second greatest number of exiled journalists in the world, a total of 70 for the period June 1, 2008, to June 1, 2013, surpassed only by Iran’s 82.
It’s crucial for media professionals to be able to work in secure conditions, and attacks against journalists can no longer be tolerated. Another challenge reporters face in Somalia is the media bill recently sent to Parliament, which still contains many articles restricting freedom of expression and access to information.