4 November 2012

Somalia: Anti-Media Campaign Claims 18 Journalists

One of Somalia's best-loved broadcast comedians and playwrights, Warsame Shire Awale became the18th journalist to be killed in Somalia in less than a year now since the anti-media campaign began in the country. So far, since the civil war broke out in the country a total of 47 journalists were reported to have been killed.

Two men armed with pistols forced their way into Warsame Shire Awale's home in Mogadishu the country's capital and shot him several times in the presence of his wife in their garden. He was taken to a hospital but died from his wounds on Monday at last.

The recent killings has made the country the second most dangerous for journalists in the world this year after Syria.

The killing of Ahmed Saakin Farah, a 25-year- old reporter for the London-based Universal TV, who was shot three times in the head around 9 p.m. Tuesday in the northern region of Somaliland was still rocking the country when Awale was cut-down in similar manner.

A fellow journalist, Abdullahi Ahmed said "It's a shocking murder, and part of the anti-media campaign that is going on in the country"

Somalia has been one of the most dangerous places to operate as a journalist this year. The irony for journalists is that Mogadishu, on the whole, is far safer than it was when the Islamist extremists, al-Shabab, controlled most of the city from 2007-2011.

A source said the campaign targeting journalists has accelerated this year, and one sad fact seems likely to be fueling the murders: No suspects have been arrested for any of the crimes. Most of the killings have taken place in Mogadishu, but the latest murder, in the northern, semi-independent territory of Somaliland, could be a sign that the scourge of media deaths is spreading.

According to Tom Rhodes, of the Committee to Protect Journalists "Killings of journalists during the Mogadishu conflict years was most certainly carried out by al-Shabab in retaliation for stories the group saw as negative. But since 2012, the list of potential killers has come to include business leaders and politicians. Everyone knows in Somalia that you can kill a journalist and there will be no repercussions. The other problem is that some of the perpetrators of these murders may very well be those in authority so they can hide behind their positions."

The media landscape is blooming, but the killings make clear that some sectors of Somali society do not want a free media. The international community has increased its calls for government officials to stop the attacks and to punish those responsible for previous killings, but no progress has been made.

Mohamed Ibrahim, the secretary of a journalists union in Somalia, believes that most killings are carried out by al-Shabab militants. "And the rest are either politically motivated assassinations or by independent criminals whose aim are all about disrupting the increasing media landscape in Somalia," he said.

The British Ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, and the U.N. representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, were among the voices Wednesday pleading with the government to halt the killings.

He said "Trying to silence the media will have a devastating effect on the nation's vibrant media community. These attacks must stop and the crimes must be fully investigated by the Somali and Somaliland authorities. I call on the authorities to bolster their criminal investigation capacity and bring the perpetrators to justice."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an estimated 47 radio, print and television reporters operating within Somalia died in the period from the start of the civil war in 1992 to 2012. The CPJ estimated that the majority were locally-based (74%), male (96%), broadcast journalists (45%), worked on the radio (64%), and were non-freelance (83%). Most were assassinated (64%), while covering primarily war (51%) and political stories (53%). A number also received threats prior to their deaths (23%). The sources of fire were largely political action groups (53%), mainly Al-Shabaab; the assailants' affiliations were unknown in only 17% of the cases. As a consequence, the country was described by Al-Jazeera as the most dangerous place in Africa for working journalists.

Early in the conflict, European journalists like Jean-Claude Jumel of France, Dan Eldon of the United Kingdom and Hansi Krauss of Germany were among those slain. The deadliest year for foreign correspondents in general was in 1993, according to the CPJ. The last foreign journalist to be killed in Somalia was Noramfaizul Mohd Nor of Malaysia, a cameraman with Bermana TV covering a relief operation

Prior to the capital Mogadishu's pacification by the Somali National Army in mid-2011, the independent Radio Shabelle and HornAfrik, among other Somali media outlets, were frequently targeted by Islamic militants.

Since their ouster, the insurgents have resorted to issuing death threats and targeted assassinations in order to discourage reporting on their activities. Due to frustration at the increasing number of expatriate journalists returning to the capital after the relative improvement in security, the militants in 2012 intensified their anti-media campaign, killing a record 18 reporters during the year.

Despite the attempted intimidation, news outlets have continued to proliferate, with the number of radio and television stations in Mogadishu rising from 11 to 30 in less than five months. Journalists have also persisted in covering the war beat.

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