The death of Ahmed Saakin Farah brought the number to 16 Somali journalists killed this year, most in targeted attacks by gunmen who know there is little chance they will be caught or jailed.
Assailants shot Farah, a 25-year- old reporter for the London-based Universal TV, three times in the head around 9 p.m. Tuesday in the northern region of Somaliland.
“It’s a shocking murder, and part of the anti-media campaign,” Abdullahi Ahmed Nor, a fellow journalist, said Wednesday. “It was a big loss for us, his friends and family.”
Somalia has been one of the most dangerous places to operate as a journalist this year. The irony for journalists is that Mogadishu, on the whole, is far safer than it was when the Islamist extremists, al-Shabab, controlled most of the city from 2007-2011. African Union troops forced al-Shabab out in August 2011, leading to less violence and a general revival of business, the arts and sports.
But a campaign targeting journalists has accelerated this year, and one sad fact seems likely to be fueling the murders: No suspects have been arrested for any of the crimes. Most of the killings have taken place in Mogadishu, but the latest murder, in the northern, semi-independent territory of Somaliland, could be a sign that the scourge of media deaths is spreading.
Killings of journalists during the Mogadishu conflict years was most certainly carried out by al-Shabab in retaliation for stories the group saw as negative, said Tom Rhodes, of the Committee to Protect Journalists. But since 2012, the list of potential killers has come to include business leaders and politicians, he said.
“Everyone knows in Somalia that you can kill a journalist and there will be no repercussions,” he said, adding: “The other problem is that some of the perpetrators of these murders may very well be those in authority so they can hide behind their positions.”
Though Mogadishu is safer than in years past, and though the government is slowly gaining some strength, the time that a skilled police force and competent judicial system are in operation is far off. The media landscape is blooming, but the killings make clear that some sectors of Somali society do not want a free media. The international community has increased its calls for government officials to stop the attacks and to punish those responsible for previous killings, but no progress has been made.
Mohamed Ibrahim, the secretary of a journalists union in Somalia, believes that most killings are carried out by al-Shabab militants. “And the rest are either politically motivated assassinations or by independent criminals whose aim are all about disrupting the increasing media landscape in Somalia,” he said.
The British Ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, and the U.N. representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, were among the voices Wednesday pleading with the government to halt the killings.
“Trying to silence the media will have a devastating effect on the nation’s vibrant media community. These attacks must stop and the crimes must be fully investigated by the Somali and Somaliland authorities,” Mahiga said. “I call on the authorities to bolster their criminal investigation capacity and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Rhodes said the Somali government is too weak to carry out adequate investigations. Members of the government, he said, have admitted as much to him. “Furthermore it’s a war situation where many sources are afraid to speak,” Rhodes said.
In addition to the 16 deaths, Mahiga said reports indicate that 20 other journalists have been injured in attacks, including Mohamud Tuuryare, a journalist for the Shabelle media network who was shot Sunday and left in critical condition.
Somalia is the No. 2 country in the world, behind only Iraq, for unsolved journalist killings in recent years, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The following is a list of Somali deaths in 2012:
— Jan. 28: Gunmen kill Hassan Osman Abdi, the director of Shabelle radio in Mogadishu.
— Feb. 28: Gunmen kill Abukar Hassan Mohamoud, the director of Somaliweyn Radio in Mogadishu.
— March 4: Ali Ahmed Abdi, a reporter for Radio Galkayo, was killed in Galkayo in central Somalia
— April 5: Mahad Salad Aden, a reporter with Shabelle radio, was killed in Beledweyne, central Somalia.
— May 2: Farhan Jeemis Abdulle, a reporter with Radio Daljir, was killed in Galkayo.
— May 23: Ahmed Addow Anshur, a producer with Shabelle radio, was killed in Mogadishu.
— July 31: Abdi Jeylani Malaq, a Somali comedian and TV producer, was killed in Mogadishu.
— Aug. 12: Yusuf Ali Osman, a veteran reporter who had been serving as the director of Somalia’s Information Ministry. Journalist Mohamud Ali Yare, killed in crossfire after government troops open fire on each other at a sports stadium.
— Sept. 20: Liban Ali Nur, an editor at Somali National TV; Abdisatar Daher Sabriye, a reporter with Radio Mogadishu; and Abdirahman Yasin Ali, the director of Radio Hamar. All three were killed when suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a popular café in Mogadishu.
— Sept. 21: Hassan Yusuf Absuge, Radio Maanta was killed in Mogadishu.
— Sept. 27: The decapitated body of Abdirahman Mohamed Ali, a sportswriter was found north of Mogadishu.
— Sept. 28: Ahmed Abdullahi Fanah, a reporter with the Yemeni news agency SABA, was killed in Mogadishu.
— Oct. 23: Ahmed Saakin Farah killed by gunmen in Somaliland.