For the fifth year in a row, Somalia remains the world’s worst country when it comes to prosecuting murderers of journalists, according to a 2019 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Global Impunity Index. The report said war and political instability have fostered a deadly cycle of violence and impunity, along with inaction by states worldwide.
Three hundred and twenty four journalists have been killed in the last 10 years for reporting and bringing news to the world, and in most cases, killers of journalists go unpunished.
For the past five years, Somalia, which topped CPJ’s impunity index, has witnessed the killing of 25 journalists without anyone being brought to trial. Fort-six journalists were killed in the country since 1992 when the last effective central government collapsed.
In the past decade, groups like al Shabab, which is fighting to topple the Somali government, have often targeted journalists with complete impunity. However, journalists were also murdered in government-controlled areas including the capital, Mogadishu. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), 12 journalists were killed since 2016.
As journalists get killed, they also continue to operate in hostile environment facing attacks, arbitrary arrests and detention, intimidation, harassment, closure of media outlets, and confiscation of equipment continue.
In February, 2020, gunmen shot and killed a journalist in Afgooye town in Lower Shabelle, 28 kilometres northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, barely a week after Amnesty International released a damning report over increasing hostile environment for Somali journalists.
Abdiweli Ali Hassan was a reporter based in Mogadishu for UK-based Somali Universal TV.
In 2019, authorities in the break-away region of Somaliland blocked Hadhwanaag news website and jailed two of its journalists, shut down two TV stations, and arrested five TV journalists. In Mogadishu, in March, armed men raided Universal TV station.
In the past three decades, Somalia has had no strong central authority, and with no strong institutions to protect them, journalists became targets of their own government, clan militias, warlords, and al Shabab group.
CPJ indexed 13 countries that make up the list of the world’s worst impunity offenders representing a mix of conflict-ridden regions and more stable countries where criminal groups, politicians, government officials, and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical and investigative reporting.
“Unchecked corruption, ineffective institutions, and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations are all factors behind impunity,” CPJ has found.
The other 12 countries that make up the list of the world’s worst impunity offenders are Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Philippines, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Russia, Nigeria, and India. For this index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred between September 1, 2009, and August 31, 2019.
“The impunity we have witnessed in these countries year after year, and the knowledge that authorities take little action against those who attack the press, cripples the ability of journalists around the world to do their job,” said CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch.
“Democratic governments cannot stand silent in the face of impunity if they want to be seen as supporting press freedom. It is imperative that journalists and their families receive the justice they deserve, and that world leaders demand accountability.”
Somali state TV wants to hire female anchors ‘based on appearance’
In your last interview, if you felt like the hiring manager was more focused on how you look, whether you smiled and your age than your qualifications for the job, you could be right.
Somalia’s state television, Somali National Television (SNTV), has advertised two news-anchor positions reserved for women, but set ‘tough conditions.’
According to the advert, some of the requirements candidates should possess include ‘younger than 25 years old, tall, thin, telegenic, and with a nice voice.’
“I was a journalist and an editor for some of the largest global media organisations for 12 years, I have never seen more insult, discrimination and misconduct than this one,” says Abdi Aynte, a former BBC and Al Jazeera editor.
“A national TV is not where to advertise and dress for women. This ads smells of other malicious intentions.”
Hours later, when the advert attracted criticism online and offline, SNTV released a revised version of the advert, and said the original ad was leaked before the directors could agree on its wordings.
It acknowledged the existence of the vacancies and a plan to recruit two female news anchors, stating the professional qualifications, but still carrying age discrimination. Applicants must be between 20 and 30 years of age, the revised advert stated.
Appearance-based discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently based on how they look, creating an imbalance between someone being evaluated for their performance versus purely based on the way they present themselves.
Somalia ‘seeks arrest’ of top journalist
Somalia’s National Intelligence Agency (NISA) has accused Harun Maaruf, a top Somali journalist based in Washington, D.C. of being a threat to the country’s security.
Harun is a VOA (Voice of America) journalist and a host of Investigative Dossier, a bi-weekly investigative programme.
He is also co-author of Inside Al Shabab, the secret history of Al qaeesa’s most powerful ally.
NISA threatens to take legal action against Harun, accusing him of having links with elements that are threat to Somalia’s national security. The intelligence agency said Harun operates outside the acceptance boundaries of journalism and warned government institutions against working with him.
NISA waxay talaabada sharciga ah ee ku haboon ku qaadaysaa Harun Macruf, oo leh xiriiro khatar ku ah amniga Qaranka, kuna kacay falal ka baxsan anshaxa warbaahinta. Waxaan hay’adaha dalka la wadaagaynaa iney ka feejignaadaan xiriirkiisa, soona wargaliyaan laamaha amniga Qaranka.
— NISA (@HSNQ_NISA) April 2, 2020
NISA did not indicate what action it would take against Harun.
Harun provides breaking news on Somalia; touching on al Shabab operations and the country’s politics and security, sometimes publishing reports critical of the government in Mogadishu. The government sees some of his reporting and publications as ‘going too far.’
This is not the first time the Somalia government threatened Harun. In December 2016, during the reign of former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the Internal Security Minister, attacked the journalist after he tweeted on an al Shabab attack on a security checkpoint.
According to an Amnesty report released in February, 2020, surge in violent attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation of media workers is entrenching Somalia as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.
Somalia, Kenya, Amisom, al Shabab and the media propaganda
Somali journalists continue to be under constant threats and attacks since the country fell into anarchy 30 years ago when the last effective central government collapsed.
Sixty-five journalists were killed since 1992, according to New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, one of them in 2020.
Both Somalia’s successive administrations and al Shabab group are involved in these killings although most of them occurred in government-controlled areas.
Violations against the press freedom have become an everyday-activity but the use of language to discredit opponents to drive one’s agenda has become the new invention.
The Somali language plays a vital role in this new media war; the government created a new Somali acronym for al Shabab – UGUS –which means the organisation for massacring the Somalia people. Al Shabab, too, decide to use the same acronym – the organization that degraded the Somali people.
The government, which controls two media outlets – the Somali National TV and Radio Mogadishu- ordered the privately-owned media to use UGUS to refer to Al Shabab. The group, linked to al Qaeda, warned these media against the government’s order. The privately-owned media refused to adhere to the government for fear of al Shabab but state-controlled media continue to refer al Shabab as UGUS.
Al Shabab seems to have abandoned the use of UGUS to refer to the government, but have been observed using ‘apostates’ to mean the government.
Media affiliated to or run by al Shabab use derogatory terms to refer to troops contributing countries under the African Union Mission in Somalia, commonly known as Amisom.
Al Shabab, an al Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government based in Mogadishu, has lost several key cities and towns to Somali forces backed by the African Union troops. But the group is still capable of carrying out high-profile killings and bombings.
It has also heavily invested in media propaganda against the Somali government and its African Union backers. It runs several websites and radio stations and production agency which records and releases quality videos on YouTube and other available outlets.
All foreigners, individuals and groups, are referred to as ‘infidels.’ ‘Infidels’ are classified into two; ‘White infidels’ are individuals from Western countries and ‘African infidels’ – these are individuals from Uganda and Burundi. Kenya is called ‘Christian crusaders.’
For al Shabab media, all the regions in the Horn of Africa region occupied by the Somali people is part of the ‘Greater Somalia’ – a pan Somali believe that northeastern region of Kenya occupied by people of Somali ethnicity, Ethiopia’s Ogadenia region and Djibouti should form one Somali state.
In the 1960s, Somalis in northeastern tried to secede to Somalia and were engaged what is known as the ‘Shifta war’ and in 1977, the Somali government invaded eastern Ethiopia to take over Ogadenia region but was defeated by Soviet-backed Ethiopia.
Before Ethiopia’s regime change in 2018, al Shabab media referred the Ethiopian troops as‘Tigray’ forces, referring to the Tigray tribe that dominated the Ethiopian government and which the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi belongs to. Now the Ethiopians are ‘Habasha’,
The privately-owned media do not recognize all troops contributing countries as members of African Union mission. Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti only are referred to as Amisom troops while Kenyan troops, although part of African Union mission, are just referred as Kenyan troops. Ethiopia, which is the most active foreign player in Somalia, is referred to as Ethiopian troops. Not all Ethiopian troops in the country are part of Amisom.
This media war is not expecting to end any time and all parties are engaged in crafting new propaganda but what the Somali government should do is try to defeat al-Shabab.
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