* Journalists develop tactics to ensure safety
* 2012 one of deadliest years for Somali journalists
* Union blames militants for most killings
By Yara Bayoumy
MOGADISHU, Sept 19 They get death threats, they
need armed escorts and they never take the same route twice -
Somali journalists reporting on events in their largely lawless
country have to take extreme measures to survive.
The scene of near unremitting conflict for the last 20
years, Somalia has made headlines as the scene of suicide
bombings, street battles and pirate attacks on shipping.
Better news has now emerged, with the rebirth of Mogadishu
after Islamist rebel fighters retreated last year and this
month's relatively smooth presidential election, the first to
take place in the country in 45 years.
Nevertheless, Somalia remains one of the world's most
dangerous countries for journalists, whether they are reporting
from the street or the conference room.
And while reporters have made easy targets in the fighting
between government forces and Islamist rebels, the dangers that
confront the Somali media will be familiar enough to the
war-weary inhabitants of Mogadishu, whose bullet-riddled city
was for years one of the most dangerous on earth.
Abdifatah Ahmed, who goes by the nickname Kalga'al, or 'my
dear', has been a journalist in Somalia for more than a decade.
Wearing his trademark rectangular, tinted sunglasses, the
blind journalist said he faced harassment from both sides when
reporting the conflict between al Shabaab militants and Somali
government forces between 2008 and 2011.
"I've received several threatening messages," said Kalga'al
who recently joined independent Goobjoog (Observer) FM, and was
sitting down to edit a piece in one of the independent radio
station's soundproof studios.
"Al Shabaab used to send us threatening messages telling us
we portrayed them in a bad manner, that we're biased and that
we've sided with the government. They warned us that if we
didn't stop, our lives would be in danger."
"And the government would also send us messages saying we've
misquoted them," Kalga'al said in the station's recently
refurbished offices, where workmen were installing
closed-circuit security cameras.
"WHEN WILL WE BE NEXT?"
Although Mogadishu is much safer than it was a year ago when
Islamist militants roamed the streets fighting Somali government
and African peacekeeping troops, al Shabaab rebels are still
managing to launch guerrilla suicide tacks.
Last week, three suicide bombers attacked a hotel where the
new Somali president and the Kenyan foreign minister were giving
a press conference, sending journalists running for cover.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 42 journalists
have been killed in the line of duty since 1992 in Somalia, 25
of whom were murdered because of their reporting.
"The government of Somalia has not registered a single
conviction in each of these deaths; if suspects were ever
detained they were never brought to trial," said Mohamed Keita,
CPJ's Africa Advocacy Coordinator.
"The impunity in the killings of journalists in Somalia
creates a lasting chill of fear and insecurity that forces other
journalists to either flee or self-censor, and the world loses
from the reduction of sources of information," he told Reuters.
The National Union of Somali Journalists says nine
journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
forcing many to take security precautions in the face of
So alarming are the perils facing journalists, some parents
have forbidden their children from taking up the career.
"I'm sure they'll be killed," said Bile Hussein, who has
banned his two sons, recent high school graduates, from being
"All violent groups in Somalia don't want to hear the truth.
Journalists are always dying for airing important news."
Seeking safety in numbers, Kalga'al said he often goes with
a group of journalists to cover events where the government
wants to boast about security gains - events that al Shabaab
fighters are most likely to target.
"Whenever we get threatening messages, we feel insecure. We
wonder when we will be targeted? At work, or while we're
covering news?" he said, as other colleagues looked over notes
for their radio piece.
Despite the dangers, Mogadishu boasts a vibrant media scene
- in the capital alone there are 22 radio stations, 7 television
stations and three daily newspapers. That translates into
hundreds of journalists in the industry, most of whom have not
been trained to work in dangerous environments.
Heba Mahmoud, a petite, veiled teenager who is an anchor on
a local television station, said she always changes the route
she takes to and from work.
"I haven't joined this job for money, it's my hobby. But I
don't take the same road twice," she told Reuters.
Another journalist who works for an international media
outlet, but refused to be named, said he limited his movements
as much as possible.
"Whenever a colleague of ours is killed, injured or
kidnapped we think: 'When will we be next?," he said.
"If there's any story that I think will be sensitive, I
steer away from it," he told Reuters.
SELF-CENSORSHIP AND FEAR
Mohamed Ibrahim, who works for an international
English-language newspaper and heads the Somali journalists'
union, said many reporters exercised this form of
self-censorship to limit their exposure to stories which might
He blamed al Shabaab militants for most of the killings,
saying they had claimed at least five this year. The Islamists
launched their insurgency in 2007, and quickly took over the
capital. After seizing control of the mosques, their imams
forced television and radio stations to air al Shabaab ideology.
Facing pressure from African peacekeeping troops, who
recently captured the port of Marka from the militants, as well
as separate military campaigns from Kenyan and Ethiopian troops,
the rebels are on the defensive.
"Now they are losing territory day after day and they don't
have the capability to control the media. So (they) are trying
to silence the media by killing journalists," Ibrahim said at
the journalists' union headquarters. As he spoke a random
gunshot was heard outside, still a normal occurrence in
Ibrahim said the government had failed to investigate the
General Abdullahi Barise, head of the criminal investigation
unit, said: "We have done thorough investigations, we have more
information about the killings of journalists in Mogadishu." He
did not elaborate.
"If the government doesn't take any action, it'll be a
threat for other journalists," said Ibrahim, who has received
death threats linked to his work.
Four months ago, Ibrahim said he received a call telling
him: "You have to stop what you're doing. You work for the
Ibrahim's solution was not to answer calls from unknown
numbers. But like many journalists, who know they can never
shield themselves whatever precautions they take, he has become
"I was afraid at first, but later I understood that nobody
can kill you unless God wills. That's how we've been working
day-to-day since 2007," Ibrahim said.
(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Editing by
James Macharia and Giles Elgood)