Somalia: Government Harassing the Media, Warns HRW

Regulation & Policy

The Somali transitional government is systematically harassing journalists and has failed to protect the fledgling independent media in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"The violent attacks on Somalia's journalists threaten their courageous reporting on the crisis in Mogadishu," Peter Takirambudde, HRW Africa director said on 22 October. "The Somali government must condemn and investigate these attacks as well as cease its own harassment of the media."

The closure of media houses and failure to investigate the killing of eight journalists has also damaged independent reporting in Somalia, the human rights watchdog added.

Somali minister of information Madobe Nuunow Mohamed downplayed the criticism, saying the difficulties faced by journalists were common to all prominent Somalis, and caused by general insecurity. "We fully support a free and vibrant private media," the minister told IRIN on 24 October. "There is no policy of harassment of the media. Our charter [interim constitution] guarantees free media and freedom of expression." However, he added: "We have closed from time to time certain media houses, and only for a short period, but always to preserve the security of the larger public."

In the latest attack on journalists on 19 October, Bashir Nur Gedi acting manager of Shabelle Media was shot dead by unknown gunmen, bringing the total number of reporters killed in Somalia in 2007 to eight.

On 11 August, Ali Iman Sharmarke, managing director of HornAfrik Radio, was killed when his car hit a remote-controlled explosive device. He was driving from the funeral of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a popular talk show host, who had been shot by unknown assailants earlier the same day in Mogadishu.

HRW said Somali government officials had consistently failed to condemn the killings, much less investigate, arrest, or prosecute anyone in connection with them.

But Mohammed said the killings were "the work of elements who are opposed to the restoration of peace and stability" in Somalia. The government, he added, was investigating and would make sure the perpetrators were brought to justice.

(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 24 October 2007)