Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SOMALIA: Telling the story against all odds

SOMALIA: Telling the story against all odds

NAIROBI, 23 November 2011 (IRIN) - Independent media continues to function in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, despite the killing of two journalists since the beginning of the year and the exile of 50 others after receiving death threats. Ten radio stations and a TV station operate in the city, officials said.

 "Seven independent radio stations closed due to lack of staff or were taken over by the fighting groups; the fact that the remaining stations are still operational is a miracle," Mohamed Lajiifiyaana Banaan, a journalist in Mogadishu told IRIN, on World Impunity Day, 23 November.

 Burhan Dini Farah, a radio journalist, said: "I have not seen my family in the last 10 months because of threats against my life. It is difficult to know who the enemy is. You get a phone call or a message telling you 'we know where you work and live' and that is it."

 Farah said he slept in the office on some days and on other days with friends. "I have to constantly be on the move and never use the same route twice."

 He said since 2006, he had lost 10 friends and colleagues. "Their only crime was covering the story."

 Farah was once introduced to two young men sent to kill him. "They were very open about it and told me that I was a target but now they were no longer interested in me."

 Not only radio reporters are targeted; even online reporters are affected, according to Mohamed Abdi, who contributes to a Somali website.

 "Somalis listen to a lot of radio but now they are also going on to the internet; this has created problems for people like me who used to hide behind the written word," Abdi said.

 He said warring parties in the country almost always knew who wrote what, adding: "This is Somalia - there are no secrets."

 Abdi said many of his colleagues had left the profession due to fear "but it is our livelihood; it is the only way I know to make a living".

 Mohamed Ali Aasbaro, an executive member of the National Union of Somali Journalists, told IRIN harassment and intimidation of journalists was a continuing thing in Mogadishu. "Each side wants to intimidate you to report what is favourable to them."

 Murders not investigated

 Aasbaro said Mogadishu had to be the most dangerous place to work.

 According to the 2011 Committee to Protect Journalists' Impunity Index, only Iraq ranks higher on a list of countries where murders of media professionals are frequent and not investigated.

 Aasbaro said: "Not one person has ever been arrested or convicted for killing or threatening a journalist."

 He said people who thought they could persuade journalists to side with them were wrong. "We are not on anyone's side; we will continue to tell the story of Somalia and Somalis, the good and the bad."

 A civil society activist, who requested anonymity, said both sides in the conflict - the government and the insurgents - were guilty of harassing and intimidating journalists. "But the killing is one-sided; Al-Shabab is the one group that has made a point of targeting journalists and killing them."

 He said the government would usually "arrest or close down a radio station but we have no record so far of a journalist killed by them. It is futile to target journalists. You kill one or chase him or her; another one will fill the vacuum."

 He said the aim of the fighting groups was to silence journalists and make sure their crimes were not recorded and used against them in future.

 "The first reports of famine came because of Somali journalists in places where they would surely have been killed if those running [the area] knew they did it," Aasbaro said, adding that "without them, the story of the famine victims would never have been known or if it came out it would have been too late for many".



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