MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia’s government on Saturday executed a man who was convicted of murdering a journalist, a military official said, the first such execution in a country where those who kill media workers often evade justice.
Aden Sheikh Abdi was killed by firing squad early Saturday in the capital, Mogadishu, according to Col. Abdullahi Muse Keyse, a spokesman for Somalia’s military court.
“His execution is a new chapter for Somalia,” he said.
Last month a Mogadishu military tribunal found Abdi guilty of the murder late last year of reporter Hassan Yusuf Absuge, who worked for Radio Maanta in Mogadishu. During his trial Abdi was accused of belonging to the al-Qaida-linked extremist rebels of al-Shabab, who have staged multiple terrorist attacks across Somalia in a bloody campaign to seize political power. The rebels were pushed out of Mogadishu in August 2011, but they continue to carry out targeted killings there and elsewhere in Somalia.
The Abdi case was the first to be actively prosecuted by the Somali government, coming after years of condemnations from rights groups who urged Somali authorities to do more to establish the rule of law and end the killings of journalists.
The killings of media workers often happen in the government-controlled areas that journalists generally consider safe, and reporters must watch their backs for attacks from extremists and criminals and fight through judicial inaction and even outright hostility from the government.
Tom Rhodes, the East Africa consultant for the Committee to Protect Journalists, praised the decision to execute the convict, saying it would help end impunity in the volatile Horn of African nation.
“This appears a positive step in ending a long record of impunity in the killing of journalists in Somalia,” he said. “Somalia has routinely ranked high on CPJ’s impunity index for unsolved murders. Let us hope that this case will send a clear message to those who believe silencing journalists through the gun … that there are consequences.”
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for media workers. At least 18 Somali journalists were killed last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
It’s not entirely clear who has been carrying out the killings of journalists. Al-Shabab militants, warlords, criminals and even government agents all could have reasons to see journalists killed in Somalia.