Press freedom state in Somalia 2021: Silent journalists through targeted attacks, restrictions and censorship among precarious working conditions

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MOGADISHU, Somalia, January 10, 2022 – Somali journalists are once again subjected to violence and deliberate attacks by security forces in the federal government, regional states and the al-Shabaab militant group. Covering insecurity, the continuing stalemate in federal elections and reports of allegations of human rights abuses, abuses of power and corruption within the government are a key red line for Somalia’s media professionals. Journalists who try to cover these issues often face arbitrary deprivation of liberty, death threats, harassment and threats and many are forced to self-censor themselves. As the country is still in a critical transition period from the end of 2021, the problems have increased even more.

Journalists are taking increased risks throughout Somalia, including Somaliland. Various forms of violence against journalists have increased significantly in 2021: from physical attacks to threats and harassment, targeted cyberbullying, we now see a number of tactics used to silence critical voices and freedom of speech. Together with the prevailing culture of impunity for perpetrators of crimes against journalists, this is one of the most serious challenges for media freedom in Somalia. Unfortunately, self-censorship or quitting the profession has now become the only survival option for journalists in Somalia.

Two journalists were murdered in the country in 2021 and three others were seriously injured – two of them with shots. 65 journalists were arrested arbitrarily and seven media houses raided. The majority of these violations were committed by state security forces such as the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), Turkish-trained Haramcad police, security officials in the regional states of Puntland, Galmudug, South West and HirShabelle. Attacks on the free press increased in Somaliland, where 12 journalists were arrested arbitrarily during the year. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the deaths of the two murdered journalists in Galkayo and Mogadishu, while state security forces shot and injured two journalists on duty.

Threats and attacks by government officials, individuals and al-Shabaab are almost a daily occurrence. Somalia still retains its unenviable title of being among the most dangerous countries to practice journalism globally. For the seventh year in a row, Somalia has retained the ugly world title of impunity for crimes against journalists when journalists’ killers roam free.

Journalists’ access to information is extremely limited throughout the country. In 2021, while the effects of Covid19 continue to plague Somali society, journalists found it difficult to obtain information on the government’s response to the pandemic and the vaccine. The denial by the federal and state health authorities of journalists’ access to information, in violation of national and international legal obligations, nullified public efforts to save lives and reduce the spread of disinformation and false news that prevented vaccination in the country.

Local media editors, reporters and producers revealed how the Federal Ministry of Health maintained secrecy to limit criticism of poor decision-making or to hide allegations of corruption when the pandemic took hold in all corners of the country. In many cases, both federal and regional states have deliberately blocked, imprisoned, harassed and threatened journalists covering elections – especially during disputes and complaints related to the upper house and lower house elections.

Throughout the year, Mogadishu’s federal police denied journalists access to information about the disappearance of Ikran Tahlil Farah, an intelligence officer who disappeared in late June 2021, and to information about the young Somali recruits allegedly transferred to Eritrean training camps as many public protests demanded information about their whereabouts were repeatedly dispersed.

Insecure working conditions, low wages, lack of employment contracts and lack of health and safety in the workplace continue to affect Somali media workers. Since the epidemic began in the country, media workers have been particularly vulnerable and many journalists have been infected with the infection, although no deaths have been reported. Somalia has no statutory minimum wage and a new federal labor law, which could set labor rights and terms of employment, is still being drafted.

The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) calls on the federal and regional states of Somalia to respect the right to freedom of the press under the Provisional Federal Constitution. Protecting journalists and media freedom is an important pillar for safeguarding information as a general benefit.

Free press plays an important role in informing citizens about public affairs and monitoring government action at all levels. When journalists are threatened, attacked, imprisoned and their media houses looted, it means that citizens do not have the right to raise key issues that affect state-building and the rule of law, which are important to Somalia’s governance.

SJS further reminds Somali federal and regional authorities of their obligations to ensure that thorough and objective investigations are carried out into all cases of journalist assassinations, including the murder of cameraman Abdirizak Kasim Iman, who was shot dead by a police officer in July 2018 in Mogadishu.

The report presented here is based on interviews with local journalists, media executives, family members of concerned journalists, civil society representatives and government officials. It covers violations against journalists and freedom of the press, including threats, harassment, arrests, censorship, physical attacks and killings of journalists in Somalia, including Somaliland, which took place from 1 January to 31 December 2021.

DOWNLOAD THE ENTIRE REPORT HERE

Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, Secretary General, Somali Journalists Syndicate

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