Court sentences man in murders of five Somali journalists

New York, March 4, 2016 — A military court in Mogadishu on Thursday found Hassan Hanafi, a former journalist, guilty of direct or indirect involvement in the killing five journalists on behalf of the armed militant group Al-Shabaab, according to news reports. The court sentenced him to death by execution, which in Somalia is usually carried out by firing squad.

“Impunity in the murders of Somali journalists has long perpetuated a cycle of violence and fear, severely limiting the freedom of the press,” said CPJ Africa Research Associate Kerry Paterson. “While we support efforts to combat impunity, we call on Somali authorities to deliver justice through fair and transparent trials and by handing down humane sentences.”

According to press reports, the military court found Hassan guilty of being either partly or directly responsible for the killings of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, director of Capital Voice radio, a private station run by HornAfrik Media; Ali Iimaan Sharmarke, the founder and co-owner of HornAfrik Media; Said Tahliil Ahmed, director of HornAfrik for TV and radio stations; Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe, a reporter for Radio Shabelle; and Radio Mogadishu reporter Sheikh Nur Mohamed Abkey, the only murder to which Hanafi confessed. The murders spanned the years 2007-2010.

All five victims are listed in CPJ’s database of journalists murdered in direct retaliation for their work.

Hassan himself had worked as a radio reporter at Holy Quran Radio, and after joining Al-Shabaab, had been a reporter for Radio Andalus, a mouthpiece for the militant group, before joining its armed wing, according to reports. He would regularly call Somali journalists to threaten them with death if they refused to join the militant group, according to press accounts.

Somalia ranks at the top of CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and their killers go unpunished. CPJ has documented the murders of 41 journalists in Somalia since 1992.

In 2014 Human Rights Watch published a report on Somali military courts, indicating that they routinely fail to meet international fair-trial standards.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This text has been updated to use Hassan Hanafi’s given name on second reference.