Defying Darkness: Somali sports journalist’s struggle against extremist threat

Jan 25 ( the tumultuous landscape of Somalia, where the shadows of terror loom large, one journalist stood defiant against the oppressive orders of Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group. Mohamed Abdi Muudey found himself at the forefront of a perilous battle for freedom and expression.

Last year, the Astaan Sports seasoned reporter and director Muudey made a difficult choice to depart from his homeland due to escalating threats. After concealing himself for a period, the mounting risks became untenable. Presently, he is in exile in Europe where he seeks asylum.

It all began when Al-Shabaab, in 2018, imposed a ban on women’s games and ordered the closure of football stadiums in Mogadishu. Undeterred, Muudey persisted in mobilizing youth groups, including women, for games like basketball, and Atletics earning him the ire of the extremist group.

“This is the reason why I became a target for Al-Shabaab,” Muudey asserted.

The militant group, fearing that such entertainment could distract the youth from their jihadist propaganda, also instructed media and journalists to avoid reporting sports.

Facing the threat head-on, Muudey and his colleagues continued to cover the games, defying Al-Shabaab’s orders. The group’s intelligence, however, caught wind of their actions, leading to a dangerous game of cat and mouse later that year.

“By that time, I moved from my residence in the North of Mogadishu and began changing places,” Muudey recounted.

With a career spanning 15 years, Muudey harbored a profound ambition — to use sports as a tool for building peace and integration within the local community. His dedication bore fruit, as he garnered eight local and foreign awards, including the prestigious President’s Award for Integration and Peace and one by the London’s Ealing Council.

His dedication bore fruit, as he garnered eight local and foreign awards, including the prestigious President’s Award for Integration and Peace and one by the London’s Ealing Council.

In 2019, terror struck Muudey’s bright future when Al-Shabaab attacked the Mogadishu Stadium during a football match. Broadcasting live on television, Muudey narrowly escaped harm as mortar rounds hit the stadium, forcing players and fans to flee.

But the threats extended beyond the sports arena. In 2012, Al-Shabaab targeted the national football association, resulting in the death of its president and the chairman of the country’s Olympic Organising Committee.

Undeterred by the escalating danger, Muudey faced a critical juncture in September 2022. His media station dared to advertise a basketball tournament for girls, enraging Al-Shabaab. Summoned to the group’s Sharia court, Muudey risked death, yet he defiantly continued his work.

“I was afraid, and I did not go to their court. I continued my work with defiance,” he acknowledged, fully aware of the imminent risks.

The danger materialized in March 2023 when an armed intruder broke into his house, though Muudey, fortunately, was absent.

Somalia, labeled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as a country where killers of journalists often act with impunity, saw Muudey compelled to leave his homeland, leaving behind his family.

“It was extremely difficult for me to continue living in Mogadishu,” he explained, emphasizing the fear and anxiety that accompanied his decision.

The chilling reality painted by Muudey’s narrative reflects the precarious situation journalists face in Somalia. The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) highlighted the pervasive risks, emphasizing that any journalist critical of Al-Shabaab or the government is in peril.

“Journalists find themselves in a precarious situation, caught between the risks of criticizing Al-Shabaab or the government and militia groups. This delicate balance poses a significant challenge for those in the field,” explains Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the secretary general of SJS.

“We have unfortunately witnessed the loss of five colleagues in the last three years, and regrettably, the numbers continue to climb,” Mumin laments.

Muudey’s journey mirrors a broader trend outlined in a December 2023 report by Freedom House, noting a rising number of journalists forced into exile due to threats from authoritarian regimes, extending beyond borders.

“The new analysis comes at a time when attacks on free and independent media are increasing globally, and more and more journalists are being forced to work from exile,” the report says.

In the face of adversity, Mohamed Abdi Muudey exemplifies resilience, a testament to the indomitable spirit of those who defy darkness for the pursuit of truth and freedom. He nurtures the hope of witnessing a liberated Somalia, where both women and men can play games without fear.

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