Somali police sit on a pickup truck as they enforce a curfew in Mogadishu in May 2022. Radio Baraawe has been off air for a month since gunmen shot at their offices in Barawe on August 12, 2023. (Reuters/Feisal Omar)
Nairobi, September 14, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on Somali authorities to credibly investigate an incident in which security personnel shot at Radio Baraawe and to create safe conditions for its journalists to return to work.
On the evening of August 12, Radio Baraawe director Osman Aweys Bahar heard gunshots outside the broadcaster’s offices in Barawe, the capital of Somalia’s South-West State. Osman and two other witnesses, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns, said they climbed onto the building’s roof and saw about four men firing guns on the street below. Osman and one of the witnesses said the men were firing at the Radio Baraawe building and when they shouted down to ask why, one gunman discharged his weapon towards the rooftop, forcing them to run inside.
Osman said no one was injured, but he shared images with CPJ of bullet holes in the building, which he said were a result of the shooting.
Radio Baraawe, which broadcasts in the minority Barawani language, has remained off air since the incident. Osman told CPJ that his colleagues were afraid to go back to work and he had gone into hiding as security sector contacts warned him that he might be arrested. The station is still publishing content on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Since leaving the city, Osman told CPJ that he had received several threatening calls from unknown people who warned him that they knew where he was hiding. He also shared with CPJ a screenshot of a threat sent on August 25 via Facebook direct message.
“No journalists should have to work with fear that they could be shot at their desks. This incident has effectively silenced a station that was a crucial source of news and information for a minority community,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities in South-West State should independently investigate this incident, credibly establish the facts, and ensure accountability for those who carried out the shooting. They should provide safety guarantees so that Radio Baraawe’s staff can resume work.”
Osman said that he recognized some of the men as working for Liban Abukar Osman, the then-Barawe district commissioner, whose office was opposite the Radio Baraawe building. Liban has since been dismissed from his post in an unrelated move.
Osman said he believed the attack was connected to Radio Baraawe’s August 8 broadcast about the death of a Barawe resident, whose family said he had been killed over a land dispute. The report was later posted on the outlet’s Facebook page. In a February interview with Radio Baraawe, the victim said that Liban had ignored his requests for help.
Liban told CPJ via messaging app that his security officers fired at a car that had crossed a checkpoint without authorization. He dismissed reports that the men were targeting Radio Baraawe as “propaganda” and said that his men only shot at the Radio Baraawe building in response to fire coming at them from the rooftop.
For their part, Osman and the two witnesses told CPJ that no one fired shots from Radio Baraawe’s roof that evening. However, Osman and one witness said they heard gunfire from a nearby police station behind the Radio Baraawe building around the same time.
Radio Baraawe has faced previous difficulties and Osman said he believed the station was targeted in part because it broadcasts in a minority language.
In April 2020, a local official said that he had banned Radio Baraawe from broadcasting in Barawani because it was a dialect and not a national language, according to a statement published by the Federation of Somali Journalists at the time. The ban was revoked a few days later, according to an SJS statement.
In January 2021, armed police raided the station, forced it off-air for two weeks and detained Osman for 10 days, according to the journalist and an SJS statement.
In June 2022, unidentified security personnel and some uniformed police officers raided Radio Baraawe, assaulted Osman, injuring one of his hands, and arrested him and another journalist, according to SOMA and SJS, as well as Osman, in an account published on Radio Baraawe’s Facebook account at the time.
CPJ’s requests for comment to the South-West State presidency via email and Facebook and to South-West State President Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed via X, formerly Twitter, did not receive any replies.