Since the fall of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has been torn apart by civil war and controlled by rival armed groups. Islamic law and businessmen have filled the power vacuum, using the traditional clan system.
Journalists continue to work amid the chaos, on privately-owned radio stations or Internet websites, maintaining a kind of national unity through a common language and by reporting daily events.
They founded the NUSOJ journalists’ union in Mogadishu in 2002 to defend journalists and press freedom countrywide, including in breakaway provinces. The union has tackled dozens of urgent cases, doing investigations and alerting international organisations and media, as well as writing reports on media conditions in a country ruled by warlords. It has also worked with Reporters Without Borders to give financial help to the families of murdered journalists.
Omar Faruk Osman (NUSOJ secretary-general) and Mohamed Barre Haji (president of its supreme council) slipped out of the country in early September 2005 after being attacked, hounded and threatened by unidentified militiamen. A couple of weeks earlier, they had received anonymous telephoned death threats. “The only law here is the gun, so we have increased security measures,” Osman told Reporters Without Borders at the time. “We refuse to be prevented from doing our work.” However, both journalists quietly left the country a few days later.
The rule of the warlords
Somalia has been a sea of anarchy for nearly 15 years - with a state structure replaced by a collection of domains ruled by warlords posing as politicians or businessmen. The privately-owned media in this mostly poor and illiterate country is sometimes the tool of the powerful and the past year has seen more beatings, threats and arrests of journalists - from Puntland (in the northeast) to Mogadishu (in the southeast). A transition government was set up under international supervision in Nairobi in late 2004 but press freedom is weak and often battered.
Two women journalists were murdered in 2005 - British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter Kate Peyton (39) was fatally wounded on 9 February when she was shot in the back going into a Mogadishu hotel to interview the president of the transition parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden. She was apparently the victim of a power struggle between the city’s warlords. Duniya Muhiyadin Nur (26), a reporter for HornAfrik radio station, was shot dead in her car by a nervous militiaman at a checkpoint on 5 June. Both murders have gone unpunished, probably because the killers are protected by the warlords.
The warlords and their small armies roam around in pick-up trucks and sometimes ancient tanks, defending clan or business interests or their national ambitions and tolerate no criticism. Journalist Abdiqani Sheik Mohamed was banned for more than four months (late September 2004 to early February 2005) from Jowhar, in Middle Shabelle province, after being beaten by militiamen of provincial warlord Mohamed Omar Habib (“Mohamed Dhere”). He went to Mogadishu, where he was housed by the NUSOJ. He had reported that local elders had asked officials of the Jowhar mosque to resign and hand over to a new team backed by them and local officials.
At least four journalists have been thrown in prison for several days or hours and then usually banned from the town by Mohamed Dhere, who is very close to the country’s new prime minister, who has made Jowhar his headquarters on grounds that security is poor in Mogadishu.
In the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland, local civilian officials use many excuses to silence criticism. The editor of the independent daily Somaliland Jamhuuriya, Hassan Said Yusuf, was arrested at his office in the capital, Hargeisa, on 1 September 2004 for the 15th time in the past decade. He was held for two days for reporting that the international community was concerned at Somaliland’s refusal to take part in the national reconciliation process.
Awale Jama Salad, editor of the radio station STN, in Puntland (stronghold of national transitional government president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed), has gone into hiding after being picked up and threatened several times by security police. The Puntland government managed to silence the critical weekly paper Shacab in summer 2005 after repeated legal harassment and arrests.