NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalia's journalists are urging their new government and the international community to help end the impunity they say is contributing to making Somalia one of the world's most dangerous countries to practice journalism.
So far 18 Somali journalists have been killed this year and 44 since 2007.
The National Union of Somali Journalists on Friday said that impunity has become a fundamental problem in Somalia. Journalists in almost every region of the country commonly face harassment, blackmail, arbitrary police detention and, in addition, criminals are hired to suppress them, said the group in a report to mark the International Day to End Impunity, sponsored by the free expression group, IFEX.
"Despite this, the authorities provide no support to journalists, and the perpetrators operate with impunity," the report said. Journalism in Somalia has reached a state of emergency, said the report. None of these crimes are investigated properly, much less prosecuted, despite successive administrations, the report said.
No action has ever been taken following a case of violence against a Somali journalist, the report said.
Journalists are being targeted to silence them from speaking against corruption, violence and violations of human rights by radical Islamist groups, said Somali Journalist Mohamed Bashir Hashi.
"We are on the lookout behind our backs every minute because media is getting lots of enemies in Somalia," said Hashi, a reporter with the local Shabelle radio in Somalia.
Somalia's government should implement judicial reforms that will aid free and fair trials, as well as provide judicial protection for the media and ensure that police adhere to the law, according to the report titled "Impunity: War on Somali Journalists." The international community can assist Somalia's federal government to put in place effective and functional public law and order, the report said.
Somalia has made significant strides politically this year in trying to establish its first functional government to move the country away from its failed state status.
A new interim constitution has been passed, a new parliament was seated and a new president was voted in. Somali elders were tasked with naming the parliament since no election could be held, given the state of security around the country. Parliament in turn elected a new president who named a prime minister, who announced his cabinet earlier this month.
Although Somalia has had transitional administrations since 2004, it has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished nation into chaos. The transitional governments lacked legitimacy and were accused of corruption.
The parliament last week voted to reduce the Cabinet to 10 members, in a sign Somalia's government may be willing to move away from its corrupt past.
African Union troops have helped to push Islamist extremists called al-Shabab out of all Somalia's major cities, giving the newly elected government a chance to rebuild the country.
The International Federation of Journalist says the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabaab has a bloody record of maiming and killing journalists who do not toe their line.
With Hizbul-Islam, another hardline insurgent group, they have in recent years ratcheted up pressure on radio stations, first and foremost to ascertain their authority on what goes on air and, most importantly, to impose Taliban-type commandments on un-Islamic music, ringtones, film and football, said Jim Boumelha, the IFJ president.
Boumelha said September was the bloodiest month as renewed killings of journalists may have been triggered by the recent change of government.
On September 20, suicide bombers blew themselves in a restaurant in Mogadishu killing three journalists and wounding five others. The following day another journalist, Hassan Yusuf Absuge, working for Radio Maanta, was shot dead near his station, Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab claimed that their supporters did it.
"With a new speaker of parliament, a new president and a new cabinet, the Somali journalists and their union expect a new beginning and a fresh commitment to protect journalists and tackle impunity as a priority and to promote the right to free expression," he said.
Associated Press writer Abdi Guled contributed to this report from Mogadishu, Somalia