Journalists have been risking their lives for years in order to expose their audience to war, rebellion, and various political upheavals. These daring adventures are often seen by journalists as a way to boost their careers and reach more people. Unfortunately, the danger of these assignments can end in assault, kidnapping, and even death for many journalists and their staff. The media’s interest in telling a story is at times seen as a threat by their subjects.
In Locked Up Aboard: Nightmare in Somalia, Nigel Brennan, a freelance photojournalists and his colleague, video journalist Amanda Lindhout were both well aware of the risk they were taking by traveling to Somalia—a country that has been torn apart by war for decades. Despite their own knowledge and warnings from a member of the African Union forces, the couple insisted on making the journey believing that in doing so they would open the eyes of world to the terrors of Somalia and make a name for themselves as journalists.
With no centralized government, Somalia is considered one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world. Famine has ravished the nation and inadequate health treatment has resulted in one in five children dying before their fifth birthday. Humanitarian aid attempts to provide citizens with food and medical treatment have been blocked by Islamic extremists like Al-Shabaab. The rebel group has banned humanitarian assistance in the areas of Somalia which the group controls, believing the aid organizations are actually attempting to spread Christianity or are spies for Western Intelligence agencies. The militant Islamic group will take extreme measures to stop international aid groups by burning all food and medicine as well as murdering charity workers.
Kidnapping is also a prevalent issue throughout Somalia. Rebels regularly hold charity workers, journalists and citizens hostage while demanding ransom for their safe return. In 2011, Somalia was ranked ninth for kidnapping threats with an average of two kidnappings occurring each month. Nigel and Amanda’s assignment was cut short when they were kidnapped outside of Mogadishu, the largest city and the capital of Somalia. The pair spent 15 months in unsanitary conditions while being assaulted, tortured, threatened and even forced to convert and become Muslim.
As in many kidnapping cases, the captors made ransom demands for the return of Nigel Brennan and Amanda Lindhout. The countries, from which the two are originally from, Australia and Canada, will not pay ransom for kidnapped citizens so their families were forced to go through a private firm in order to make the transaction. After four months of attempting to raise the money, in one case remortgaging their home, Nigel and Amanda’s families were able to obtain the $1 million ransom demand made by the kidnappers. Exhausted and traumatized, the two were flown from Mogadishu to Kenya, free from their nightmare.
Not all journalists attempting to document the afflictions of other lands have been so lucky. Cardiff School of Journalism reported that at least 70 journalists and support staff died while on assignment in the first of half 2012. Many of them victims of bombings and shootings, both common methods used to censor the media. On May 2, 2012, the day before World Press Freedom Day, Farhan Jeemis Abdulle, a Somalia radio reporter, was shot by two unknown masked gunmen. Abdulle had received death threats a few days prior to his assassination and friends believe he was targeted the Al-Babaab for reporting on programs that discourage violence in youth. He was the sixth journalist killed in Somalia in a six month period.
Targeted or caught in the crossfire, journalism has become an increasingly dangerous job in recent years, especially for those covering political unrest. Organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and United Nations’ human rights experts have made pleas for the protection and fair treatment of journalists reporting in hostile situations. Presently, Somalia, where Nigel and Amanda’s nightmare took place, is the second most dangerous country for media workers. Despite this statistic and the warnings of others, many journalists still travel to Somalia and other dangerous countries with the hope of making a name for themselves. Sadly, the fate of many of these reporters will be an assignment for a fellow journalist.
Watch Locked Up Abroad: Nightmare in Somalia August 20th at 10P et/pt