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Remembering Said Tahlil

GaroweFalastiin Iman, a former producer for the independent Somali broadcaster HornAfrik, was talking by phone on Sunday with the station's director, Said Tahlil, left. He was upbeat, she said, a mood that is not easy to come by in Mogadishu. "He was so happy that peace was finally coming to Somalia and that, miraculously, HornAfrik TV and Radio was still able to operate and report throughout all the crises." 
On Tuesday, Tahlil was killed, shot repeatedly by masked assailants. He and several other senior journalists were on their way to a meeting with members of Al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group that was apparently displeased with local coverage of Saturday's presidential election won by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The moderate Islamic leader's easy victory was seen by many, including Tahlil, as a turning point in Somalia and a chance for peace after decades of fighting. Al-Shabaab had rejected the election and considered the newly elected Ahmed to be a puppet of the west.

The other journalists escaped without serious injury, but Tahlil died at the scene.

Sahal Abdulle, an exiled Somali journalist who now resides in Canada, considered Tahlil one of the best journalists he ever worked with. "Said Tahlil was one of those rare breed of Somali journalist that I have come to know while I was working in Somalia as the Reuters correspondent. He will not be only missed by his family and friends but millions of voiceless Somalis that he gave a voice to. His legacy will be with us for quite a long time," Abdulle told CPJ.

Somalia, embroiled in civil conflict for most of the past two decades, is one of the deadliest places in the world for the press. Since 2007, 11 Somali journalists have been slain.

Abdulle and Iman know the dangers facing Somali journalists as well as anyone. On one brutal day in August 2007--in the middle of a funeral procession for a murdered colleague--Abdulle and Iman were in a car with HornAfrik owner Ali Sharmarke when a roadside bomb went off. Remarkably, Abdulle and Iman survived, but Shamarke was killed. The three were driving in a procession for Mahad Ahmed Elmi, head of a HornAfrik affiliate who was shot dead just outside of Iman's house just hours before.

Despite these awful deaths, Tahlil took the risky job as director of HornAfrik in the volatile Bakara Market area of Mogadishu. At times, threats were so pervasive that Tahlil and other HornAfrik journalists were living in their office to avoid being killed. "I've been in this compound for two months," Tahlil said told The Washington Post in 2007. "I don't go anywhere. I will not go to my home. I will not go to the market. After they killed my boss and my friend, I am scared of everything. I'm like an imprisoned person here."

Tahlil and others had hoped the election of Ahmed would bring peace and allow journalists to carry out their work without the fear of death. Now, Tahlil is dead, and some journalists are fearful of even attending the funeral.

"Last night I remembered the funeral of Mahad and prayed that nothing will occur during Tahlil's funeral," said Iman, who moved to the United States with CPJ's help after facing repeated threats on her life.

CPJ research shows that at least 21 Somali journalists went into exile in 2008 alone, although local groups note the figure is likely to be much higher. Foreign journalists are staying away from Somalia, fearing potential kidnapping and attack.

Not many are left in Mogadishu to report an important story. Tahlil was one of the few who insisted on staying despite nearly impossible conditions. Survived by his wife and eight children, a host of journalists whose careers he helped, and an important body of work, Tahlil will be greatly missed.

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Like other media, IRIN's Somalia coverage depends heavily on the courage of many local journalists like Said Tahlil and civil society activists, who rarely even get their names in print due to the security risks.

Ben Parker

The outrageous comments made by the U.N. Special Representative Ahmedou Ould Abdallh in an interview with VOA, where he called for a moratorium on reports written outside Somalia based on information supplied by local Somali journalists and where he compares Somali journalists'
reporting to Radio Mille Collines (read the interview here: one day before Said Tahlil was murdered, show that Somali journalists really do have enemies everywhere.

The UN envoy should show his support for this courageous journalist community, not only because Somalia is considered too dangerous to cover by foreign correspondents who rely heavily on their Somali colleagues to get the news out, but especially because Somali journalists are risking their lives every day trying to report the news to the Somali people.

I hope all press freedom organisations will pick up this story and file a complaint to the UN Secretary General, pointing out that the comments made by the UN Envoy put the Somali journalists even more at risk, and not only demand a public apology by Ahmedou Ould Abdallh, but also demand that the UN Envoy calls for an investigation and for the killers to be brought to trial.

Sarah de Jong
Deputy Director
International News Safety Institute

It was really chocking moment when I hear S,tahlil,s Death through the News, (Inaa Lilaah wa Inaa Ileyhi Raajicuun) We are requesting from Allaah with his kindness to give Said Tahliil to his Pradise (Insha Allaah).Me & All my family are sending this condolence to all his family,his wife and his children,I would Appreciate if any one can send any phone that Ican contact His children;Ican'nt tell how perfect human being he was.thanks forever.

Halima (Boosteeya) February 9, 2009 9:43:50 PM ET

Working hand in hand with Hornafrik for many years, its just tragic and makes me feel sad that the few professionals working to highlight the plight of Somali's get so ruthlessly put out. The phone calls are so numbing - I remember the day Mahad was killed and I got the call from Mogadishu - even worse was the call that followed saying Ali Sharmake was dead.
On Tuesday it was another call - "Said Tahlil is dead" I was dumbstruck and the caller was overcome by emotion that we both hung up. WHY!!! When will this ever end??

i am very concerned about the plight of Somali people, particularly the jouranlists who are targtes. many fled and many still stay in the country in fear. i beg Allah to save us from this disaster. i myself face such threat because i was stopped from my working on jouranlism. i was freelance jouranlist. now i live in sad and fear. because i am a father whose job stopped and not able to go out of the country.
finally, i would request CPJ to help me get ou of this crisis and seek a resettelment for me in another country. because my life is in risky facing unkown death threat

Abdullahi Mohamed Hassan October 26, 2009 2:01:58 AM ET