JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — They buried Somali radio journalist Mohamed Mohamud Turyare on Monday, a week after he was killed by unknown gunmen near a mosque in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. On Monday night, killers struck again, this time shooting dead one of Somalia's famous poets and radio comedians, Warsame Shire Awale, near his Mogadishu home.
Awale, in his 60s, was the 18th Somalia media figure killed this year. Turyare, 22, of the Shabelle Media Network, died days before TV journalist, Ahmed Farah Sakin, 25, was shot dead by unknown assailants in northern Somalia.
Dozens more journalists and media personalities have been injured in the deadliest year on record for Somali journalists. In 2009, the next deadliest year, nine were killed.
“In Mogadishu, the atmosphere is very fearful and people wonder how they can continue doing their jobs. Many have stopped. They're afraid of being killed,” said Rashid Abdullahi Haydar of the National Union of Somali Journalists, in a phone interview. Haydar was among the hundreds of mourners who laid Turyare to rest at the city's Al Jazeera cemetery Monday.
“Families are afraid too. They are saying, 'Please stop this [journalism] because you have no rights and no protection.' It's very precarious working conditions we have right now.”
As Somalia makes a delicate political transition, a new president has been elected and Mogadishu is more peaceful and stable than it has been in decades. Yet the rash of assassinations of Somali journalists continues, evidence of the country's ongoing security problems and the new government's impotence against targeted killings and suicide bombings.
In September, three journalists were killed and four were injured when suicide bombers attacked a cafe in central Mogadishu that was a popular hangout for news reporters and civil servants.
Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has been pushed by African Union forces from urban strongholds, is thought to be responsible for a number of the attacks. But many believe that powerful warlords or businessmen may be behind some of the killings.
Awale was well-known for his role on Radio Kulmiye lampooning Al Shabab. He was the second Radio Kulmiye comedian to be shot dead by gunmen. Abdi Jeylani Marshale, who performed on the same program, was killed in August.
“He was well known in Somalia's literature and culture. He was a musician and he was an intellectual,” Haydar said, describing Awale.
Haydar said Awale and others on the show had received death threats by phone in recent months. He said the journalists' union believed that like Marshale, Awale was assassinated for poking fun of Al Shabab.
“They were calling them all the time, saying, 'Why are you insulting the insurgency?''' Haydar said.
Awale, long famous as a playwright and musician, was a member of the musical group Onkod that performed in Mogadishu before the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Later, he was known for his romantic and patriotic songs and he has since written songs calling on people to reject violence and to join the police force instead of militant groups. The Somali journalists' union has called on the government to carry out a full investigation into the killing of Awale and all other media workers.
Haydar said the government appeared to have no power to protect targeted journalists.The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom organization, ranks Somalia as Africa's most dangerous country to be a journalist.
Radio Kulmiye's website ran a recent commentary saying that if not for the brave reporting of Somali journalists, the world would not have known about the country's suffering during more than two decades of chaos and violence.
“All Somali journalists and the general public as well as the international media and human rights watchdogs and the world community at large agree that the vast majority of Somali journalists are targeted in attempt to silence the only independent, neutral voice from a country mired by 21 years of chaos and lawlessness,” read the article, published Oct. 22.
It followed a polemic published Oct. 11 in Britain's Guardian newspaper by London-based Somali Jamal Osman, arguing that many journalists were killed because they were corrupt and accepted payments to write good things about certain politicians or businessmen.
“The profession needs to be cleaned up. The media owners should do it to save the lives of their employees,” he wrote. Somali journalists staged protests in Mogadishu condemning the article.
— Robyn Dixon, reporting from Johannesburg