Brother of young man killed in Ethiopia’s Somali region accuses VOA Somali Service of censorship

For some time now there has been rumors that some influential journalists in VOA and BBC Somali services have been compromised by the president of the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia. A widely-held view among many people in the Somali Region is that these news services do not air any negative news against the regional president or that they alert him in advance, allowing him time to respond and give them directions on how the news should break. However, the brutal and merciless killing of Faysal Muhumed Omer on Oct. 29 may have finally turned the matter from mere rumors and hearsay to a credible suspicion.

What happened in the last few days is this:

On Oct. 30, one day after the killing of Faysal, his brother, Mustafa Muhumed Omer, gave a rather spirited interview to VOA Somali Service. The news was still fresh at the time and it was understandable that Mustafa was in a heightened state of anguish and confusion. Moreover, at that stage, the story was just developing and nobody but the killers were in possession of all the information. While the suspicion, circumstantial evidence, and all the available details pointed in one direction, it was far too early to present any clear and substantial evidence as to who was behind the killing, how it was organized or executed.

While most of the facts were still at the level of “unconfirmed reports” at that stage, it is easy to appreciate why Mustafa rushed to give that interview, since it was not difficult to guess Mustafa must have also known about the rumors regarding the reputations of the VOA and BBC Somali services.

It is also possible Mustafa knew what the regional government would do next and tried to pre-empt it, even at the risk of making a few mistakes on the details of how the killing actually took place. Mustafa has been providing regular updates on how the situation developed through his Facebook page and was sharing all the twists and turns of this tragic situation on an hourly basis.

Mustafa waited two days for the interview to be aired but since he knew there was a real possibility it may not be broadcast; he didn’t count on it to give his side of the story. He continued his updates on how the situation was unfolding through social media which nowadays is a more effective way of communicating to people.

The VOA Somali waited until the regional government, in an apparently rushed and poorly organized video, released its version, before contacting Mustafa to give explanations as to why the interview was not aired. The first excuse was that there were inconsistencies in how he described the killing, which at this stage makes no sense because the killers already covered up their tracks or at least tried to do so. So, it was immaterial to debate whether Faysal was tortured, strangled and thrown from a speeding car or if he was shot with a pistol first and then thrown from the car. What exactly happened to him will be known when national and international forensic experts exhume the body and conduct a post-mortem.

VOA Somali Service desperately tried to skew the interview on the most contentious aspect of it, the final killing. They gave scant coverage to the motive and to what happened in the days before the killing. Mustafa understood the agenda of VOA Somali and decided to focus most of the interview on the motivation and what happened to his family from Oct. 19 to 29 (the traumatic 10 days that preceded the actual killing). He also spent time to structure the discussion about the incident in the framework of the general human rights situation in the region. The VOA Somali Service took all of that out and decided that they only knew what the audience wants to hear. This is censorship.

Mustafa was then contacted by Harun Maruf a few days later with the explanation that since the first interview had some inconsistencies about how the actual murder took place and was also of unreasonable length, they now wanted to do a second interview. Mustafa refused to do that and told them that the situation has now moved on from proving what happened or hasn’t happened and therefore he didn’t need another interview. Mustafa thought this refusal will put an end to this bizarre behavior by the VOA. To his dismay, he heard from friends that VOA finally released the original interview, days after the whole saga about this killing had moved on to another level. He listened to the interview and was shocked that not only was it cut so that it just focused on the gray area of the incident (how the gruesome killing was organized), but that the title of the interview was deliberately manipulated.

In the interview, Mustafa makes a number of clarifications and caveats about what constitutes a breach of code of conduct as a UN staff and freedom of expression which is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of rights. He also repeatedly clarifies what the ascribed “political” views he is alleged to have written on Facebook are. Yet, in the title, it says “Mustafa claims his families were targeted for his political opposition against the Somali regional government”.

If you listen to the interview carefully, that is far from what he said. Mustafa, understandably, suspects this is yet another strategy to absolve the killers of his brother or at least to ensure that their image is not tarnished. By doing this, the VOA Somali Service not only engaged in censorship but it can also veritably be accused of promoting the narratives of the alleged killers at the expense of the victim’s family. They seem to have painted the whole situation as some sort of political dispute between two entities, leaving the listener to understand that “all is good in love and war”.

In the original (full) interview and in his Facebook updates, Mustafa gave plenty of details about the threats, harassment, and intimidations that he and his family faced between the 19th and 30th October 2016. A fair, ethical and impartial media would have taken all of this into account when reporting (or in the case of the BBC) nor reporting this story.

Further information and particulars on this story can be found on

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Sahan Journal’s editorial policy.

On Relationships: Getting Along with In-Laws. Death Foretold: The killing of my brother
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