Somalia joins the rest of the world to mark the World Press Freedom Day with a pledge from government to improve the security of journalists in the country.
The country is ranked among the most dangerous for journalists and media practitioners to work world over, with journalists facing constant attacks especially from extremist group, the al Shabaab.
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Boarders ranks Somalia in the 176th position of the 180 countries reviewed in terms of safety of journalists.
Leila Aden Osman is one of those journalists that have had to live with the fear of being attacked. She has worked as a journalist since 2007 but had to flee the country in 2008 as threats on her life intensified.
“This was during the time Al-Shabaab ruled the country. I was working with a radio station in 2008 and received constant threats. I fled from my home due to the constant fear of being killed and went to Kampala.”
She spent four months in Kampala, Uganda before she returned to her home country. Even when she did, she could not return to her family home and spent 7 years estranged from her family, living at her work place, the only place she felt secure.
“It is a very risky job due to the insecurity but I love my job and am happy with it. I believe that one day, all this will be over,” she says.
For Leila, not being with her family is because she fears that their lives might be at risk too and this has been the most difficult thing for her to live with.
“I missed my parents and family for a period of 7 years. I could not even say hello or visit, else they would be killed and I would be killed. Al Shabaab also made me fail to pursue my education at the time but I am currently taking a course in Mass Communication. They call me you on phone threatening, accusing me of being against Islam, saying that they will kill me and no one can stop them,” she explains.
The stories of these journalists are synonymous with those of many media workers in Somalia, some of whom have unfortunately lost their lives. These two however remain resilient. Leila, in addition to anchoring news on Radio Mogadishu also hosts 2 programs on SNTV where she provides information on health, useful to the population. Sadia on the other hand hosts a program on issues of gender and empowerment, in addition to news reporting.
The Somali National Union for journalists says the environment remains a risky one for the Somali media, despite the significant strides taken so far. Mohammed Ibrahim, the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists says the improved security situation in Mogadishu has played a part in facilitating the safety of journalists.
“The Somali journalists have been targeted for the good work they are doing for the people and the services they are providing to the public by taking very strong decisions; life and death decisions. The decline I think has come through two options: one is that the journalists and media employers have taken a very serious decision to ensure the safety of journalists, their employees. The other issue is that there is a little bit of improvement of the security in Mogadishu,” he says.
The Information Minister Hon. Mustafa Duhulow says the government is working towards improving the standards of journalism in the country by providing training opportunities and trying to address threats against journalists. He says consultations are ongoing on the proposed media bill, which was previously rejected by media practioners as repressive. The bill in its previous form required journalists to disclose their sources and forbid them from disclosing information deemed against Islamic law or Somali tradition. The minister explains that a committee with representatives from the media has been set up to review the proposed bill and address the concerns raised earlier.
Hon. Mustafa Duhulow acknowledges the risks the journalists face and says the government is working closely with the media organizations to improve the safety of journalists.
He says the government was previously unable to bring perpetrators of attacks on journalists to book, because it controlled limited territory. He is hopeful that the situation will change and the culprits punished as the government gets more established across more parts of the country.
“There was chaos in the country because there was no law and for a long time there was civil war. When there is civil war, a lot of things happen but we are trying to do the best that we can. Even the government itself was not controlling a large area but now we are expanding and as we expand, we will be able to control more areas, more and more. Once we control more area, we will be able to look for the criminals and individuals who are actually doing these sorts of activities like al Shabaab; they are criminals. What they are doing is against humanity and these individuals; we were not able to deal with them because of the areas we control. Now we are getting bigger and stronger and we will be able to deal with them Insha Allah. Even if it takes 80, 40 years, Somalia will always look for them, whenever there is an opportunity, we will look for them,” he says.
For the journalists, the passion for the job and hope for a better future keeps them going. At least 7 journalists were killed last year and 18 in 2012, marking the deadliest year for Somali Journalist. Though there is remarkable improvement, the journalists continue to fear for the lives and the threat remains a reality. Already one journalist has been killed this year. Emerging from years of conflict, Somalia is on the path to recovery with many of its institutions beginning to take root, including the media landscape. The country now enjoys relative peace facilitated by the African Union Mission in Somalia, working together with the Somali National Army.