The return of the war in 2006 made it one of the most violent years for the press for a long time. One foreign correspondent was killed in Mogadishu in broad daylight, while some 30 Somali journalists, embarrassing witnesses to a conflict of lies and disinformation, were arrested by one of the belligerents.
Somalia, which at the start of 2006 was a chaotic archipelago of territories controlled by warlords, became in the space of just a few months the scene of clashes between a fundamentalist political-military movement and a fragile transitional government. Somali journalists therefore found themselves facing new challenges. When the country was divided into fiefdoms of the warlords, protected by adolescent mercenary militia, they were already the favourite targets of the powerful, businessmen or self-proclaimed governors. In 2006, as embarrassing witnesses to a war in which disinformation and lies were a major weapon, they have had to cope on one side with the devout, nationalist Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and on the other with a federal transitional government, irritable and worried about its image on the international scene.
As a result, some 30 journalists were arrested during the year both in Mogadishu in the south-east of the country, the UIC base, as well as in the regions taken by the Islamic Courts, such as Baidoa in the south-west, the headquarters of the government, as well as in semi-autonomous Puntland in the north-east.
Fahad Mohammed Abukar, journalist working for Radio Warsan, Mohammed Adawe Adam, of Radio Shabelle, and Muktar Mohammed Atosh, of privately-owned HornAfrik radio station were arrested by government militia on 24 October in the village of Daynunay, 15 kms from Baidoa. The three journalists were found in possession of a digital film camera on which there was footage of an Ethiopian soldier of Somali origin killed in Burhakaba, as well as of Ethiopian troops on Somali territory. They were held for one week before being released. The footage which they had taken was never broadcast. Likewise, Abdullahi Yasin Jama, journalist on Radio Warsan, fell into a trap set by transitional government militia in Baidoa, on 24 November. He was seized after being invited to a fake press conference and kept captive for three days by militiamen who mal-treated him, punishing him for reporting on the “massive presence” of Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia, which the governments in Baidoa and Addis Ababa had spent half the year denying, but without really convincing anyone.
UIC militia in Kismayo in the south-east arrested three journalists from HornAfrik radio on 29 September. Sahro Abdi Ahmed, Layla Sheik Ismail and Adam Mohammed Salad were released a few hours later after being order to stop reporting on the Islamic Courts. Moreover, on 17 December, the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Omar Faruk Osman, and the organisation’s co-ordinator, Ali Moalim Isak, were arrested at Mogadishu airport before starting on a business trip. They were first transferred to a police station at the airport before being taken blindfolded to the police station in Waberi district. Police confiscated Osman’s computer and documents he was carrying, and both men’s passports and mobile phones. A police officer interrogated them in the cell and forced them to reveal the password so they could read the journalist’s emails. They were released the same evening but their property was never returned to them. Following this, for fear of reprisals, several NUSOJ officials went into exile.
Obstructions faced by the NUSOJ
Reporters Without Borders’ partner organisation in Somalia also experienced numerous setbacks during the year as its reputation grew as an organisation defending press freedom. Militiamen in the pay of a rival expelled the NUSOJ management from its Mogadishu offices, on 3 July, forcing the organisation to find new premises elsewhere. In October, after negotiations with the UIC leadership, the organisation managed to avert the imposition of a draconian “code of conduct” on the press, preventing them from putting out news “likely to create conflicts between the people and the Islamic Courts”.
This country is still one of the most dangerous in the world. A car in which NUSOJ officials were travelling was ambushed on the road between Baidoa and Mogadishu on 4 August, and their driver, Madey Garas, was killed. And 18 months after the still unpunished murder of BBC reporter Kate Peyton, a Swedish journalist was killed in the capital in broad daylight during a rally in support of the Islamic Courts. A freelance reporter accustomed to working in conflict zones, Martin Adler, was killed by a hooded man who fired a bullet into his chest, while he was filming a group of demonstrators on 23 June. The Islamic Courts, which condemned the murder, said it had made a number of arrests, but gave no further details.