Firstly, journalists in Somalia face incredible physical danger. It’s the most hazardous place in Africa to work as a media professional: Bombings and gun attacks by the jihadist group al-Shabab have killed so many of my colleagues over the years.
Then there’s the intolerance and corruption of the government, which arrests its critics and shuts down media houses. A total of 84 journalists were detained in 2022.
Finally, there’s the sheer logistical difficulty of leaving the urban areas to do your job and report freely on Somalia’s life-threatening drought and hunger. The powerful international aid agencies control access to humanitarian information, and they often select and frame the issues they want covered in a country where millions of Somalis – year after year – are dependent on relief.
As the secretary-general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), I thought I’d seen it all. That was until I was detained and began a nightmarish journey through Somalia’s criminal justice system.
It began on 11 October 2022 when I was stopped at Aden Adde International Airport in the capital, Mogadishu, as I was about to board my flight to Kenya to visit my family.
National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) officers took me from the airport to Godka Jila’ow, a notorious underground detention centre that was shut down in 2018 amid allegations of abuse but has since re-opened.
I knew what it was about. The day before, the SJS – along with other professional journalist groups – had issued a statement condemning a vaguely worded directive by the ministry of information banning the media from quoting al-Shabab’s “lies and propaganda”.
We argued that the order, taken without consultation with media organisations, threatened legitimate expression and press freedom. It also put journalists' lives at even greater risk, as al-Shabab had threatened retaliation against any reporters who abided by the directive.
In Godka Jila’ow, they interrogated me for eight hours. At 1am, they locked me in a tiny concrete cell with no lighting or ventilation. I sat on the floor, my legs touching the cell door. I hadn’t eaten or taken anything to drink and felt badly dehydrated.