Even in exile, Somali journalists face death
Since 2007, at least 13 journalists have been killed while working on stories and more than 50 have been forced to leave the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Union of Somali Journalists.
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Ordinarily, organizations like the CPJ would call on the government of Somalia to ensure greater safety for journalists, but Somalia has no effective government to call upon. On Dec. 29, 2008, the president of the Transitional Federal Government, Abdullah Yusuf, resigned. The country remains largely in the hands of a collection of warring militias, most of whom view journalism as an existential threat rather than a civic need.Skip to next paragraph
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"When the Islamic Courts Union arrested you, people could come and talk and ask questions, and there could be some dialogue," says Ali, an exiled Somali journalist and chairman of a group calling itself the Committee for Somali Journalists. "But with Al Shabab [a radical Islamist group], there is no dialogue, there are no questions. Anyone who asks questions on your behalf also gets arrested."
"Why we become targeted," Ali says, "is because these people do not want media coverage and international exposure of the massacres they are carrying out."
Like Ali and Osman, Abdi is a wanted man in his country. His crime is journalism.
In March 2007, Abdi found himself reporting from the village of Huriwa, where Al Shabab had a large military training camp. In Huriwa, Abdi witnessed four Somalis being killed by Al Shabab.
" 'Because you come to write reports for them [the Westerners] then you have to die,'" Abdi says one of the Shabab warned him. Fortunately, the Islamists were slow to follow through on their threat, and three days later, a pro-government force of Ethiopian peacekeepers pushed Al Shabab out of the village. Yet Abdi says he still wasn't safe from Al Shabab's threats. "My father had to use his meager resources to send me out," he says.
Now living in exile, Abdi, Osman, and other Somali journalists still feel threatened, because Somali Islamists also live in Eastleigh.
"We have refugee status here, but we still don't feel safe," says Ahmed, another exiled Somali journalist. "The conflict has just been transferred here. The people who support Al Shabab are all here. By 7 p.m. in Eastleigh, we cannot move from our apartments."
Although they are cut off from their home countries, the men stay in regular touch with friends and families, who keep them posted on what happens in Mogadishu and throughout the country. The same mobile-phone networks that Al Shabab use to coordinate their battle activities can be used in a positive way by journalists.
"As we are talking now," says Ali, reading a message on his cell phone, "I know what is happening. Any [breaking news] that I get, I put it on my website."