Somalia Comment: Killing of Hindia Haji Mohamed

On December 3rd Hindia Haji Mohamed a mother of 5 children, who worked as journalist for a state-run radio station and TV channel in Mogadishu has lost her life, after bomb which was planted underneath the seat of her car, exploded. Hindia was the widow of a former journalist who also died in 2012 restaurant attack. She was one of the few local journalists operating in one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a journalist- Somalia. Hindia Haji Mohamed was continuing the legacy of her late husband, who also had lost his life in the same line of work. She was studying International Relations & Diplomacy at Somali International University and had the ambition of being an ambassador to represent her home country Somalia across the world.

At her workstation in the radio and the TV she was a news anchor, the gateway between the community and the news. The late Hindia Haji Mohamed becomes the fourth journalist killed in Somalia this year and the third female journalist killed in Somalia since 2005. She is the 38th journalist, who was killed in the line of duty since 2010.  The Reporters Without Borders “Press Freedom Index” of 2015 listed Somalia on rank 172 out of 180 countries.

However Somalia appears to be the deadliest of all. Just five weeks ago Al Jazeera contributor, Mustaf Abdi Noor, has been killed in an al-Shabab attack on a hotel in Mogadishu. Among the deceased journalists this year are further Daud Ali Omar who worked at  Radio Baidoa, who was assassinated last April, Mohamed A. Moalin who was working at Universal TV and was killed in a suicide attack at the Jazeera Hotel last July.

The violence in the country has claimed several lives and forced many journalists to flee the country. Media houses’ operations are often suspended by the authorities and the media personnel and especially journalist many times experience intimidation and threats by authorities and other groups.

Suppressive media legislation

In 2013 the government had drafted a new media law, which was widely criticized due it is strict media restrictions and heavy fines. The law was passed by the council of ministries in late 2014 without consultations with the medial groups, but is yet to be approved by the parliament.

According to the IFEX 2014 Somalia annual report, many of the broad restrictions laid out by this legislation could be used by Somali authorities to silence their critics, control independent media, disproportionately punish journalists and result in self-censorship on the part of journalists and media houses in order to avoid potential repercussions.

As for example Article 6 of the draft, establishes a National Media Council, which consists of thirteen members. Six of the thirteen members will be appointed by the Ministry of Information, while four will be appointed from independent media. The remaining three members will be appointed from civil society actors, particularly from the National Human Rights Commission, the National Women’s Organisation, the Solicitor General or the Somali Bar Association. Article 6, Provision 6.2 of the bill, further establishes a media regulatory body, which is again dominated by the Ministry of Information, with most of its members being appointed by the same ministry. The council therefore lacks independence and credibility, aiming at curtailing the freedom of press and to dominate and regulate the content of news production.

Media outlets, including newspapers must additionally register at the Ministry of Information and pay an unspecified annual license fee to get a license, according to Article 7, Provision 7.3. This opens the door for the ministry to politicize the issuance of licenses and deny any media house that they may deem to be critical of them. Breaches of the not further detailed violations of the “code of ethics” are fined between US $5,000 to $10,000. This vague outline contributes to the possibility of arbitrary and unreasoned application, which in turn leads to a spread of fear and curtailing of the freedom of expression. Apart from all these restriction, journalists in Somali have to face other harsh realities like continuous threats, intimidation, kidnappings and the closure of media outlets which common in Somalia. There are no other protection mechanisms available for journalists operating in Somalia other than to keep hoping for the best.

In Hindia’s case hope was lost. Beside the international condemnation and criticism, on the attack on the freedom of press and the loss of Hindias life, there is something more to it. Hindia was the widow of a journalist killed in an attack back in 2012, she was an extraordinary strong woman, raising her five children without their father. Her determination was outstanding, which is also reflected in the words of her university members, who commented that “she was a role model for me and for many others in the community.” When the news of her death began to spread, a nationwide reaction was heard from radios stations to News Channels to social media. Local journalist are now left with many dilemmas, questioning themselves on whether to stop their careers as a journalist in Somalia or to continue working in such a volatile, hostile and life threatening  environment.

For now there is no escape plan for them.

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