Mogadishu — The recent murders of two Somali journalists have brought to 10 the number of media workers killed in the country since December 2011. Journalists and rights groups fear that more targeted killings lie ahead as the country prepares for a new government.
On 12 August, Yusuf Ali Osman, a veteran broadcaster in the Ministry of Information, was killed as he walked to work by a man dressed in high school uniform. In a separate incident on the same day, Mohamud Ali Yare, a 24-year-old journalist, was killed by a stray bullet after government troops reportedly opened fire on each other.
"We have our worries because every transitional period in Somalia is always risky for journalists. Every time a new administration is coming to power [journalists are a target]," Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar, treasurer of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), told IRIN.
The mandate of the UN- and African Union-backed Transitional Federal Government, which has been the official administration since 2004, expires on 20 August and will be replaced by new government structures under a new constitution. The country is expected to hold presidential elections on 20 August; dozens of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring.
Journalists are often caught between opposing politicians jostling for positive media coverage. "All the warring sides and the political sides want journalists to serve their interests. If [their desired stories are] not reported, the journalists are [at risk]," said Abdi-Aziz Mohamed Diriye, an independent journalist based in Mogadishu who was injured by a stray bullet in an Al-Shabab attack on a suspected government spy in April.
Media advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks Somalia as the most dangerous place for journalists to operate in Africa, despite relative peace in the capital, Mogadishu, since the 2011 withdrawal of the insurgent Al-Shabab militia.
"Since the conflict started in late 2006, journalists have been routinely targeted. Unfortunately, this year is proving to be one of the most dangerous years for Somalia journalists, so I do not see conditions improving for the press despite general security improvements in the capital [Mogadishu]," Tom Rhodes, the East Africa consultant for CPJ, told IRIN.
"The challenges Somali journalists face are immense and [they] will undoubtedly face many more in the months ahead when elections are meant to take place," he added.
According to NUSOJ's Abdulle, more than 100 journalists in Mogadishu have received death threats by phone from Al-Shabab and opposing political factions.
"Often the killing appears to be the work of the Al-Shabab insurgency, who views journalists as legitimate targets along with government politicians and soldiers. But in some cases, it appears more likely that government officials or prominent businessmen may be behind some of the killings of journalists for their critical reporting," CPJ's Rhodes said.
Government officials say the risky nature of journalists' work makes it difficult to provide protection.
"Journalists are not excluded from the ordinary people; we are in charge of protecting their security. But journalists become targets because they report risky events taking place in the country - that is why the Islamists are targeting them," said Warsame Mohamed Jodah, deputy mayor of Mogadishu. "We can't protect them everywhere."
CPJ says more than 25 journalists have been murdered in Somalia since 1992, shortly after the conflict began; 60 percent of these died covering the war. An additional 12 journalists have been killed in combat or crossfire since 1992, and five others have been killed covering other dangerous assignments.
Rights groups have called on the government and the international community to investigate the deaths of journalists - many of which remain unresolved - and to respond to threats on their lives. "The Somali authorities and the international community must act to end impunity for the killing of media workers," human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on 13 August.
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations