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HRW: Somali Government, Militants Intimidating Journalists

Abdiqadir Dulyar, director for the Somali television station Horn Cable, looks at the smashed window of a car that was carrying journalists working for his station in Mogadishu, May 3, 2016. Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the car last week but no one was hurt.

Human Rights Watch is accusing both the Somali government and the militant group al-Shabab of using abusive and violent tactics to intimidate journalists. As the world marks Press Freedom Day, the rights group is calling on the authorities to act and bring an end to the attacks against journalists in the country.

Human Rights Watch published a report Tuesday titled "Like Fish in Poisonous Water” that documents killings, arbitrary arrests and threats against journalists since 2014.

Laetitia Bader, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said Somali journalists face daily threats in doing their work.

“Over the last two years, we found that journalists are facing threats, harassments and also violence from all sides," she said. "Traditionally, al-Shabab has obviously been one of the most dangerous actors in Somalia for journalists… journalists are now facing threats and manipulation from many different actors, which are making it incredibly difficult for them to report even on basic news stories.”

Since 2014, more than 10 journalists have been killed. Six others survived assassination attempts.

One survivor is journalist Abdirisak Elmi. In October 2014, armed men attacked him outside his house in Mogadishu.

“A car approached us and it stopped in front of us, they started firing at my friend and me. The first bullets hit me in the hands," he said. "When I tried to run they hit me in the back, my stomach and around my kidney. I ran towards a house, they continued firing at me. I fainted at the door of the house."

Elmi was hospitalized for four months. He said he doesn’t know who attacked him, but is certain they attacked because of his work.

“After much thought, the reason I was attacked, I realized, was because of my profession.I don’t believe that there is anything that will make them attack me other than being a journalist; much of my life and time I worked in the media,” said Elmi.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, most of the journalists killed in Somalia cover politics and war.

Last month, the Somali government executed three people, including a former journalist, for their alleged involvement in the killing of six journalists.

Hassan Hanafi Haji is tied to a wooden post as he is prepared to be executed by firing squad at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, April 11, 2016.
Hassan Hanafi Haji is tied to a wooden post as he is prepared to be executed by firing squad at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, April 11, 2016.

Human Rights Watch accuses the government of bringing charges when an act is attributed to al-Shabab, but failing to prosecute government officials.

The organization also accuses regional authorities of intimidating journalists and closing down media stations that do not comply with unlawful orders.

Over the years, many Somali journalists have fled to neighboring countries to escape the threats and intimidation.

One of them is Said Hassan, a former reporter now living in Kenya.

“In Somalia, if you are a journalist, you are a target. Being a target it makes you worried and fearful all the time. Sometime back they threw a grenade at us, and sometimes they threaten us in our station," he said. "Are you going to wait for death? This has forced me and others to flee the country,” said Hassan.

Earlier this year, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud signed a controversial media law that gives government officials a wide range of powers to arrest and prosecute journalists for disseminating false information.

With Somali elections less than four months away, Human Rights Watch called on the government to allow different views and opinions to be aired, and to allow safe and open reporting.