Falastiin 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.
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.
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
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
"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.