MOGADISHU, SOMALIA – For Abdiqadir Dulyar, simply reading messages sent to his phone can send shivers down his spine.
His voice breaks as he reads a recent note: “Keep doing what you do, and we shall come to give your well-deserved award (death).”
Dulyar, the Mogadishu director for the Somali television station Horn Cable, said often the threats lead him to avoid going home and he stays at his office for weeks at a time. The 40-year-old journalist said his fear heightened last week after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car carrying journalists working for his television station in Mogadishu, although no one was hurt.
Somali journalists frequently receive threats and although many have been killed, police rarely investigate or provide adequate protection to reporters, according to Human Rights Watch, which marked World Press Freedom Day Tuesday by issuing a report on the dangers faced by Somali journalists.
The deadliest country for journalists in 2015 was Syria where 14 were killed followed by France with nine deaths, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Seventy-two journalists were killed in 2015 and 10 have been killed so far this year.
In Turkey, the country’s main journalism association said World Press Freedom Day was not a day of celebration but a day for reflection, solidarity and “finding a way out” of the rapidly deteriorating state of media freedoms in the country. Since January, the government seized Turkey’s largest circulation opposition newspaper, two journalists were put on trial for spying for their reports on alleged government arms smuggling to Syrian rebels and several pro-Kurdish journalists were detained over their reports on the fighting between government forces and the Kurdish rebels. Close to 2,000 cases have been opened against people — including journalists — accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The conditions are not there for the Turkish media to celebrate this important day,” said Nazmi Bilgin, of the Turkish Journalists’ Association. “It is not possible to celebrate freedom when you are not free.” Bilgin said some 720 journalists had been fired so far this year while more than 100,000 websites have been blocked.
For years Somalia has been one of the most dangerous countries for media workers, according to the CPJ. Fifty-nine journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992, soon after a civil war broke out in this horn of Africa nation, according to the organization.
The deadliest year for Somali journalists was 2012 when 18 were killed. In 2015, three journalists were killed, including Hindia Haji Mohamed, who worked for the state-run broadcasters and was the widow of a slain journalist. She died in December when a bomb blew up her car, an attack claimed by the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab.
The murders of Somali media workers often happen in government-controlled areas that journalists generally consider safe, and reporters must watch their backs for attacks at all times. It does not help that they often face hostility from the government, said Human Rights Watch.
There are signs that the Somali government is providing better protection for journalists. Last month, the government executed a man convicted of assisting the murders of five journalists. A former journalist himself, the man had joined al-Shabaab to work as their press liaison and was known to have threatened reporters he felt did not portray the insurgents in a favorable light. He was one of the few prosecuted by the Somali government, which had been urged for years by rights groups to do more to protect journalists.
Despite relative stability in Mogadishu since the ouster of al-Shabaab in 2011, journalists say they still feel unsafe due to attacks by the militants and threats from government officials. Although African Union troops have helped to push Islamist extremists out of all of Somalia’s major cities, the rebels still carry out numerous attacks, hampering the government’s efforts to rebuild the country.
“There is the prospect of having a Somali free from oppression, but threats and intimidations against journalists continue and it is very grim — no group or government likes our work,” said Dulyar, the broadcast journalist. Despite the dangers, Dulyar said he remains committed to journalism.
“No matter what, I shall keep working,” he said. “I shall remain being a messenger for the whole world.”