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No escape plan for Somali journalists

Friday 15 January 2016, by siawi3


Published: 09 January 2016

Ms HIndia the fourth journalist killed in Somalia in 2015 and the third female journalist killed in Somalia since 2005

"We are not only shocked of her death..." says Hindia’s cousin. On December 3rd, Hindia Haji Mohamed—a mother of five children who worked as journalist for a state-run radio station and TV channel in Mogadishu—lost her life after a bomb was planted underneath the seat of her car shortly after she was leaving her University. Hindia was the widow of a former journalist who also died in a 2012 restaurant attack.

Hindia was one of the few local journalists operating in one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a journalist—Somalia. She was continuing the legacy of her late husband who also lost his life in the same line of work. She was studying International Relations & Diplomacy at Somali International University and had the ambition of becoming an ambassador for her country so she could represent her people in front of the world.

At her workstation on the radio and the TV station where she was a news anchor, she was the gateway between the community and the news. The late Hindia Haji Mohamed becomes the fourth journalist killed in Somalia this year and the third female journalist killed in Somalia since 2005. She is the 38th journalist to be killed in connection to her work in Somalia since 2010, which is ranked 172 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Somalia is now considered Africa’s deadliest country for media personnel.

Among the deceased journalists this year are freelance journalist Mustafa Abdinor Safaana, killed at Sahafi Hotel Attack; Daud Ali Omar, who worked at radio Baidoa and was assassinated in Baidoa last April; Mohamed A. Moalin, who worked at Universal TV and was killed in a suicide attack at the Jazeera Hotel last July.

On June 5, 2005, armed gunmen shot to death Horn Afrik Radio reporter Ms. Duniya Muhiyadin Nur between Mogadishu and Afgooye. On February 9, 2005, armed assailants shot to death Ms. Kate Peyton, a Johannesburg-based BBC television producer outside Hotel Sahafi in Mogadishu

The violence in the country has claimed several lives and forced many journalists to flee the country. Media houses operations are often suspended by the authorities and the media personnel are intimidated and threatened by radical groups as well.

Suppressive Media Legislation

In 2013 the government drafted a media law, which was widely criticized due its strict media restrictions and heavy fines. The law was passed by the council of ministries in late 2014 without consultations with the medial groups; however, the law has not yet been approved by the Parliament.

According to IFEX 2014 Somalia annual report, many of the broad restrictions laid out by this legislation could be used by Somali authorities to silence their critics, control independent media, disproportionately punish journalists, and result in self-censorship on the part of journalists and media houses in order to avoid potential repercussions.

For example, Article 6 of the draft media law establishes National Media Council, which consists of 13 members. Six of the 13 members will be appointed from the Ministry of Information, while four will be appointed from independent media. The remaining three members will be appointed from civil society, particularly from the National Human Rights Commission, the National Women’s Organisation, the Solicitor General or the Somali Bar Association. The National Media Council shall be appointed by the Ministry of Information,

According to Article 6, provision 6.2 of the bill, this article clearly establishes a media regulatory body which is dominated by the Ministry of Information with most of its members appointed by the same ministry. The council therefore lacks independence, credibility, and the journalistic community. Therefore the wider public will have no faith in it. All media houses including newspapers must register at the Ministry of Information and pay an unspecified annual license fee to get a license from the ministry, according to Article 7, provision 7.3. This opens the door for the ministry to politicize the issuance of licenses and deny any media house that they may deem to be critical of them. The draft media law further states that a journalist or media house shall pay a fine of between US $5,000 to $10,000 for breach of the “code of ethics."

Apart from all these restriction, journalists in Somalia have to face other harsh realities like continuous threats, intimidation, kidnappings, and the closure of media outlets, which is still common in Somalia. There is no protection for journalists based in Somalia other than to keep hoping for the best. The government cannot protect them; in fact, the government’s security obligation mostly caters to protecting only their own staff and building complex.

Although her death has been internationally condemned and criticized, there are people who are felling the painful sorrow and sadness that has personally affected their lives through Hindia’s assassination. I had the opportunity to interview one of Hindia’s cousins and fellow university member named Maryama (not her real name). She told me that Hindia was a role model for her and for many others in the community. In fact, it was because of Hindia that Maryama started university. Maryama said “Each and every member of the family has been crying since the news of her death reached them...…we are not only shocked of her death, we know everyone has to leave this world someday but what about the five children she left behind? With no father and now with no mother,” she said. “Now I can’t go to that university,” she added.

When the news of her death came out, a nationwide reaction could be heard everywhere from local radio stations to news channels to social media. Everyone was sending prayers and condolences to the family of the deceased; some of them condemned those behind her assassination. However, the radical group has officially claimed the responsibility of this attack just such as they claimed to be behind the attack that took Hinda’s husband’s life back in 2012. Local journalist are now left with many dilemmas, questioning whether to stop their careers as journalists in Somalia or to continue working in such a volatile, hostile and life threatening environment. For now there is no escape plan for them