Ahmed Omar Hashi was no stranger to death threats. As a senior producer for Mogadishu’s popular Shabelle Radio, Hashi routinely reported on Somalia’s bloody, eighteen-year civil war, and all the bitter politics that accompany it. By 2007, he was regularly receiving threats, by phone and text message. But the Islamic insurgents from the hard-line Al-Shabab group, who were suspected in most of the threats, never made good on them. Other Somali journalists were less lucky. Around twenty have been assassinated since 2007.
In May, Al-Shabab launched a major assault on the new, moderate, Western-backed government in Mogadishu. Shabelle Radio closely covered the fighting, which is ongoing. On June 7, gunmen attacked Hashi and his boss, Moqtar Hirabe, while the two were walking in a Mogadishu market. Hirabe, a respected veteran journalist, was killed. Hashi was shot in the hand and stomach, but survived.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the news Web site World Politics Review raised money to sneak Hashi to neighboring Uganda, where he is recovering from his wounds and applying for asylum in the United States. David Axe spoke to Hashi there by e-mail and phone.
Would you describe the attack?
Moqtar and I were walking in Bakara Market, to do some assignments. Two masked men armed with pistols came behind us and started shooting both of us in the back. Moqtar had fallen down at the first shooting—because the bullet hit directly on his heart—but luckily I was hit, by the first shooting, on the left side of the hand, and it passed into the left side of my stomach and came out the right.
Why were you attacked?
I was attacked due to my work. They [Al-Shabab] have many times asked me to make some changes, and add pro-Al-Shabab programs, which I turned a deaf ear to. It’s against journalism laws to side with one group. Also, we have interviewed the spokesman of the Somali government’s moderate Islamists, condemning the operations of Al-Shabab, and broadcast another interview with a spokesman for Ahlu Sunna [a moderate Islamic group], who told us that they had wounded the leader of Al-Shabab, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, in fighting that took place in central Somalia.
Somali media have always faced dangers. Have those dangers become greater in the last year, with the formation of the new, moderate Islamic government?
Yes. So many journalists have either been killed or forced to be in exile. So far this year, five journalists have been assassinated, and Somalia became the most dangerous place to work as a journalist in all the world.
What is the future for Somali media?
It’s unpredictable, but in my opinion, the Somali media will plunge into darkness if the present attacks and repressions against journalists continue.
What are your needs now?
I’m really in need of assistance medically, financially, and for resettlement in a third country, as soon as possible. What I’m worrying about is facing hardships and security concerns that could put my life at risk if I don’t find an emergency humanitarian visa. You know that I was the breadwinner for my family. I request you to do everything that you possibly can. (To support journalists in crisis, contact CPJ’s journalist assistance program at www.cpj.org/journo_assist.)