Somalia: Investigate Attacks on Journalists

(Nairobi, March 1, 2012) – The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia should promptly investigate the killing of the Somali journalist Abukar Hassan Mohamoud by unknown gunmen, Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 28, 2012, two men repeatedly shot Abukar, also known as “Kadaf,” outside his home in the Wadajir district of Mogadishu, killing him instantly. This was the third targeted killing of a journalist in Mogadishu since December 2011.

“The cold-blooded killing of Abukar Hassan Mohamoud points to a broader attack on press freedom in Somalia,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Transitional Federal Government should carry out credible investigations into these killings to send the message that they need to stop.”

Abukar was the former director of the Somaliweyn radio station, which shut down following looting by the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab in 2010. A relative told Human Rights Watch that Abukar had been planning to reopen the radio station in March. He was also active in a youth organization that organized protests in Mogadishu against the announced merger of al-Shabaab with al-Qaeda.

The other two journalists killed recently died under similar circumstances. On January 28, Hassan Osman Abdi, the director of Shabelle Media Network, one of the leading media organizations in Mogadishu, was shot by gunmen outside his home in Wadajir, and died on his way to a hospital. Hassan was the third Shabelle Media Network director to have been killed. Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe was killed in 2009 and Bashir Nur Gedi in 2007.

On December 18, Abdisalam Sheik Hassan, a freelance reporter with Horn Cable TV Station, was shot in broad daylight in the Hamer Jabjab district of Mogadishu by a gunman in a government military uniform after receiving a series of threats, including a death threat in person.

Although Transitional Federal Government officials have promised to investigate the killings of Hassan and Abdisalam, no one has been held to account and investigations appear to have stalled, Human Rights Watch said. A suspect in the case of Abdisalam was arrested but then apparently released, and there do not appear to have been any charges filed in the killing of Hassan.

All parties to the conflict in Somalia have targeted journalists and put restrictions on the right to free expression. At least 25 journalists have been killed since 2007, according to Amnesty International.

Participants in the high-level conference on Somalia organized in London on February 23 emphasized the need for journalists to be able to work freely in Somalia. In their final communiqué, conference participants pointed to the need to rebuild the national justice system, but failed to propose specific measures to promote accountability for human rights abuses.

One key step toward promoting justice would be for the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry or similar mechanism to document serious international crimes committed in Somalia and recommend measures to improve accountability, Human Rights Watch said.

“If the TFG and its international partners are serious about protecting free speech and media freedoms, they need to tackle Somalia’s culture of impunity,” Lefkow said. “Somali journalists need to see that those responsible for attacks on the media will no longer walk away scot-free.”

The cold-blooded killing of Abukar Hassan Mohamoud points to a broader attack on press freedom in Somalia. The Transitional Federal Government should carry out credible investigations into these killings to send the message that they need to stop.
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch
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