Journalist murder unnerves Somalia media

Killing of Mohamed Ibrahim Rage this week highlights lack of safety for reporters working in the war-torn country.

    Journalist murder unnerves Somalia media
    Mohamed Ibrahim Rage was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Sunday outside his home in Mogadishu [AP]

    Mogadishu, Somalia - In a two-bedroom house in Mogadishu's Medina district, a group of about 10 women have gathered to mourn in silence.

    Sitting on plastic chairs, the women silently stare at the cement floor, tears freely flowing from their eyes.

    The women are the relatives of Mohamed Ibrahim Rage, a Radio Mogadishu and Somali National TV (SNTV) journalist assassinated by unknown gunmen in front of his house on Sunday evening. Men armed with pistols shot Rage six times at close range while he was sitting at the front door of his house playing with his four-year-old daughter.

    "He was my only son. He didn't harm anyone. He only did his job. Why did he have to die this way?" asked Hawa Jimale Omar, Rage's mother, her eyes red from crying.

    Rage moved back from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, five months ago, where he had fled in 2009 after receiving continuous death threats. "I told him to stop working as a journalist but he told me his life is in God's hands," said Omar, her voice barely audible.

    Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work in. Rage is the fourth journalist killed in the Somali capital this year. Two of the journalists killed died in separate suicide attacks; unknown gunmen assassinated the other. Last year, 18 journalists were killed in this country. So far, though, no one has been arrested for the deaths.

    Journalists at the state broadcasters - SNTV and Radio Mogadishu - may feel safe at their heavily guarded offices near the presidential palace, but say they feel vulnerable and abandoned when they leave the gates after work. Since 2010, they've lost five colleagues.

    'Like sheep at a slaughterhouse'

    "We feel like sheep at a slaughterhouse waiting our chance to be slaughtered one by one," said Abdimahad Hussein Abtidoon, a reporter at Radio Mogadishu. After hearing about the death of his colleague, Abtidoon didn't leave his house for 24 hours, for fear the assailants were watching him and would target him next.

    Abtidoon and his friend, who also works for Radio Mogadishu and requested his name not be used for fear of being targeted, say the city has become like an open prison for those working for the state broadcasters.

    "We can't go to work in the whole city. We can't go to [the districts of] Deyniile, Kaaran, Suuqa Hoolaha, Huriwaa. We can't go where we want. We fear we will be killed if we go to these places," explained Abtidoon.

    Rage's burial took place at Jazeera, just outside the city, but his work colleagues had to stay away. "We were advised by our seniors not to go to the burial as we may be targeted," said Abtidoon's friend.

    The country's journalists' union, meanwhile, is demanding the killers be caught and tried. "We want the government to bring the killers of Rage to justice. We want them to also bring the killers of the three other journalists to face justice," said Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists.

    In February, Somalia's Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the convictions of those killing journalists. The government also set up a task force to investigate the deaths of journalists. So far, though, neither the reward money nor the creation of the task force has led to any arrests.

    'Sole breadwinner'

    At Rage's family house, the gathered women worry about his wife Faiza Ahmed, who is nine months pregnant and has not had any food or rest for the past 48 hours. "He was not just a father and husband to us. He was our sole breadwinner," said Ahmed.

    She is concerned about how she will raise their two daughters and the unborn child on her own. All of the family's meagre savings has gone to pay for the funeral.

    Faiza says Rage was concerned about his safety, and never came home later than 5PM. The last thing Rage discussed with his superiors at work was safety - his safety.

    We do not claim responsibility for Rage's death. We are not in the least liable for the death of journalists in Mogadishu.

    Al Shabab,

    "I last saw him the evening before he died. He said he didn't feel safe taking public transport," said Abdirahim Isse Adow, director of Radio Mogadishu. "He requested I tell the driver who picks him up from his house not to come late. He also complained the driver forgot to pick him up [a] few times."

    Government and security officials have previously blamed the deaths of journalists in Somalia on Al Shabab, the hard-line rebel group fighting the Somali government. Al Shabab sees government workers as a legitimate target, including those working for the state-owned media.

    However, the group has distanced themselves from the death of Rage. "We do not claim responsibility for Rage's death. We are not in the least liable for the death of journalists in Mogadishu," the group told Al Jazeera in a statement. "Rage's death and that of other journalists in Mogadishu is testimony to the rising insecurity that has engulfed the capital city."

    The government says the investigation of Rage's death is under way. "We assure the family and friends of Rage the government will not leave no stone unturned. We will bring the killers to justice," said Abdishakur Ali Mire, the assistant minister for information.

    Rage's mother wants the killers brought to court. "I can't forgive them for what they have done to us," she said, "but they can ask Allah to forgive them".

    Follow Hamza on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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