By Samira Sawlani
Thursday, July 11, 2013
A report released on the 20th of June 2013 by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) suggests that countries in the Horn of Africa are among the worst culprits in stifling press freedom.
Based on a survey of 55 journalists who CPJ have assisted in leaving their home countries due to threat of violence, death and imprisonment in the past year, the report states “Journalists in the East African nations of Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Rwanda fled in high numbers over the past 12 months, making this region responsible for the highest number of exiled journalists for the sixth consecutive year”
Most worrying however is the fact that Somalia was ranked in the top 10 deadlines countries for journalists between 2008 and 2012. According to the report ‘Violence is acute in conflict-ridden Somalia, forcing out 70 journalists since 2008, according to CPJ research. In 2012, a record 12 journalists were murdered in Somalia, even though government forces largely ousted Al-Shabaab militants from the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011.’
Due to this many Somali journalists have fled the country and generally head for Kenya or Uganda where they often struggle to find work, homes and acceptance from the host community. Some of these journalists are plagued by threats from unknown parties and so have to keep a low profile while in exile, most of them are unable to find work as journalists and if lucky find another career. For the majority though life is a struggle of making ends meet as they face the challenges of job hunting in countries where unemployment is high and they face competition from the local population. Racism and prejudice is also a reality for these exiled members of the media, not only do they pine for their home and their country but they face the constant reminder by their surroundings and people that they are outsiders and belong elsewhere.
Most of all, what bothers them is the impending feeling of doom when they think of the fate of their fellow journalists back home and the feeling of despondency at not being able to practice their passion.
Perhaps every member of the Somali population knows the story of Abdiaziz Abdi Nur Ibrahim who is currently in exile after he was released from prison in Mogadishu.
Abdiaziz Abdi Nur Ibrahim
Mr Ibrahim was introduced to a lady who had been raped by 5 men in army uniforms. He had not made a decision to write a story on her experience until he had conducted more research into the matter. However, before he could do this he was seen interviewing her and consequently was arrested and thrown into jail.
His aim in speaking to her was to give the lady an opportunity to share the horrific ordeal she had suffered; he wanted to give her a voice.
However, this too was a crime in the eyes of some members of authority, without warning he found himself sharing a cell with 45 other people. His home was ransacked and his computer files broken into, he faced daily interrogations at the hands of the police and during his whole time under arrest he was not told what he was being arrested for.
In a phone interview he exclaims “They never told me what I had done wrong, every day before and after the trial I lived in terrible conditions in that cell wondering if anything would ever change.”
According to the authorities his crimes included fabricating a defamatory story and misleading an interviewee, unfortunately the alleged rape victim was sentenced to time in prison.
During that time the media in Somalia came to the support of Mr Ibrahim, they lobbied members of the government and the judiciary and continued to campaign for his release. Finally coming under pressure from the media fraternity both inside and outside of Somalia, the Attorney General stated that the investigation had misled the courts and Mr Ibrahim was released.
Unfortunately the time in prison had affected him psychologically, emotionally and physically to levels from which he is still reeling and recovering.
After he left prison he faced a new challenge that of death threats from unknown parties. He began living in fear and knew that leaving the country was the only option he had. Certainly trying to continue his journalism within the borders of Somalia was impossible and he had to consider the life of his family members.
Selflessly he sought a temporary home elsewhere and quietly left the country. As he continues to overcome the psychological impact of time in prison and a life in exile he finds that his greatest concern is not his own fate and future but that of the press in Somalia. “The fact that the media face threats of death and violence from unknown parties is ultimately limiting them and the profession. I worry for my friends who are journalists and something must be done about this.” His hope is that both the Somali government and its International partners do something to create an environment where the media will not face such threats and danger for just doing their job.
Ultimately what is most admirable is though his current circumstances have separated him from his loved ones and the land which he calls home, he has no regrets. For if the painful reality he is living today has come as a result of him working to serve his community and Somalia then he has no regrets.
So while he lives in an adopted land and continues to pine for the streets of his home, his greater wish is to be able to return to an environment where he and his fellow journalists are able to practice their art and profession without fear of anyone. One can only hope that as Somalia continues to build and develop and come into its own again, its media fraternity will mirror the fate of the country and also walk in strength and courage.