A new report says attacks on journalists in Somalia, an entrenched problem in the African country, are on the rise again. The report by rights watchdog Amnesty International says the attacks, along with harassment and intimidation, have rendered Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.
The report titled "We Live in Perpetual Fear," details harassment, intimidation and killings of journalists by militant group al-Shabab, police and government actors.
The threats on Somali journalists have created a climate of fear, says Deprose Muchena, head of Amnesty International in East and Southern Africa.
"This fear is experienced through range of violations that are physical in nature, which include physical attacks, arbitrary arrest of journalists, killings by both armed group al-Shabab and government forces, in particular in one case, and an observation point we make is that for all these violations there is no concluded investigation that has been done in order for us to say impunity is now being addressed,” Muchena said.
The rights group says eight journalists have been killed since the administration led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo came to power three years ago. Five journalists were killed by al-Shabab attacks, two by unknown gunmen, and one was murdered by a police officer.
Abdullahi Hassan, an Amnesty International Somali researcher, told reporters in Nairobi that journalists were attacked for doing their work.
"Most of the time, when these physical attacks happen, they happen in the context where journalists were trying to cover what they call sensitive stories. These sensitive stories include reporting on al-Shabab attacks, reporting on corruption, reporting on human rights violations, and reporting issues that are perceived to be critical of the government,” Hassan said.
Another eight Somali journalists have fled the country for fear of their lives.
Thirty-year-old Nur Ismail Sheikh is one of them. His troubles began when he interviewed some opposition groups critical of the Somali government. The reporting led to his arrest.
"I was detained for 12 days in Mogadishu, I was detained in the criminal investigation police cell for a few days and later transferred to the central prison without charge. I was later released. After the release, I started receiving threats from different groups. The threats to my life have forced me to flee the country and come to Kenya,” Sheikh said.
Somalia’s ministry of information said in a statement Thursday that it disagrees with the rights group's findings.
The statement said the report is politically motivated and is aimed at tainting the image of the Somali government, which it said has taken measures to protect journalists and media houses.
Somalia is preparing for local and presidential elections next year.
The rights organization says the heated political climate may generate more violence against journalists. It is calling on the Somali government to create an environment for journalists and media organizations to operate freely, and to inform and help Somalis make decisions about their next government unrestrained.