Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Somalia Deadliest African Country For Journalists

Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe became the fifth journalist to be murdered in Somalia this year, confirming Somalia as the deadliest African country for journalists.  Hirabe, the director of Radio Shabelle, was gunned down in the streets of Mogadishu by three unknown gunmen while walking to work with his colleague Ahmed Omar Hashi.  Hashi was shot in the hand and stomach but survived.  He is currently seeking ways to leave Somalia, fearing for his life if he remains.

Hirabe's murder, the fifth of the year and the fourteenth since 2007, drew calls from many non-profit organizations to guaranty the safety of journalists covering Somalia's ongoing conflict.  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) "expressed anger and dismay" at the murder while urging the Somali president to "come to grips with the scale of this catastrophe and do his utmost to ensure the safety of journalists."   The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also issued a statement calling "on all those who are fighting in this conflict to stop targeting journalists and instead do their utmost to protect them."  The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) stated that they were "shocked" by the attack. 

Hirabe is the third journalist from Radio Shabelle to be murdered this year.  His murder comes just over four months after the killing of Radio HornAfrik director Said Tahlil and a year to the day after the murder of NUSOJ vice-president Nasteh Daher Farah.  Hirabe, like Tahlil, was murdered in the Bakara Market, a section controlled by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia.  Hirabe had survived one murder attempt, on the same day Tahlil was murdered.  Hashi escaped on that day as well.

While Somalia's lawlessness riveted the Western media in early 2009 after Somali pirates captured an American vessel and several other Western ships, little attention has been paid to the ongoing conflict between various warring factions and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has increasingly used journalists as pawns.  The CPJ's Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes,  stated that "as the conflict in Somalia intensifies, journalists are increasingly targeted at unprecedented levels by insurgent groups. [T]he international community must hold those who commit violence against journalists to account."  Some believe that Hirabe's murder and the attempt on Hashi's life were retaliation for false stories claiming that Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys had been killed or injured.  However, there is also  speculation by Hirabe and Hashi's colleagues that the attack was carried out by insurgents trying to control the Somali airwaves.

Whatever the reason, the alarmingly increasing trend in recent years of murdering, capturing, or otherwise harming journalists to make a political statement must come to an end.  A free and fair press which can operate without fear is beneficial to all and guaranties that all sides will be heard.

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