Ahead of elections, safeguarding press freedom in Somalia should be prioritised.

MOGADISHU, Somalia– Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somali Media Association (SOMA), Disabled Journalists Association, representatives from Lower Shabelle Journalists Organisation, directors and editors from over 30 independent media houses today gathered in Mogadishu for a consultative conference raising concerns on the draconian Somali Media Law, the safety of the working journalists and denounced the rise of threats against the press.

Leaders of journalists associations and independent media organisations have expressed their concern over a recent statement by the Somali Minister of Information, Mr. Osman Abokor Dubbe to the members of the international community appealing for support for the implementation of the oppressive Media Law. They condemned the efforts by officials of the state security agencies and the Ministry of Information to undermine the work of the independent media during the electoral season.

Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, Secretary General of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) stated that freedom of expression and that of the press are at a critical juncture as journalists continuously face growing level censorship and other threats mainly by the state security agencies. Mr. Mumin noted the recent raid and detention of Radio Kulmiye journalist Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow was a blatant attack against the freedom of the press.

“Unfortunately, rather than improving, the situation is now going to worse. State security agencies and government officials continue to target independent journalists on a daily basis. I am concerned how the media will be able to provide accurate and impartial information to the public if journalists are not safe,” Mr. Mumin said.

Mr. Mumin called for the Ministry of Information to impose moratorium on the implementation of the certain provisions within the Media Law that threaten the media freedom and should not be used during the election.

“We call for a comprehensive consultation and an honest inclusive review into the Media Law. We are ready to contribute our advice so that Somalia can have media law that is inline with the Somali Constitution and the international human rights standards,” added Mr. Mumin.

Mohamed Abduwahab Abdullahi, Secretary General of the Somali Media Association (SOMA) hailed the importance of the unity and solidarity among the media houses and the journalist associations that has begun at this critical time.

“The safety of journalists is a paramount importance at this difficult time ahead of the elections.  The draconian Media Law is the biggest threat we face today. We call for its amendment and it should not be used during the election period in order to safeguard the freedom of the media and independent coverage,” Mr. Abdullahi said.

“Even as we are continuously harassed and threatened, we will never rest from fighting for our constitutional rights,” adds Mr. Abdullahi.

Director of Som  News  TV, Hassan Kahiye speaks during journalists consultative conference in Mogadishu on Tuesday, 17 November, 2020. | PHOTO/SJS.

Mowlid Mohamed Urur, Director of Kalsan TV, an independent television station that has lost two journalists in the past four years, has expressed grave concern about the safety and security of journalists amid a prolonged culture of impunity.

“The other threat is that there will be no independent media and free journalists if the Media Law is implemented as the way it is,” he added.

Abdifatah Hassan Ahmed, chairman of the Disability Journalists Association, expressed his frustration with the countless abuses against journalists in general.

“The practice of bribery and threats against the media continues. We are fed up by the level of intimidation and suppression. We call for this to stop,” Abdifatah said.

Burhan Diini Farah, the Director of Radio Kulmiye, described how the censorship against the media had increased ahead of the election season, putting a real security concern on the journalists.

“A free and fearless journalism is vital for Somalia’s state-building. We would like to remind authorities that we could never be silenced,” said Mr. Farah “At this time, I strongly advocate for close cooperation between our media houses and our unions like SJS and SOMA to defend freedom of expression together.”

Hassan Mohamud, director of Goobjoog Media praised the resilience of Somali media and its journalists.

“We have come from far, but we still need to continue fighting for media freedom and our rights as journalists without fear or favour,” Mr.  Mohamud said.

Hassan Kahiye, director of SOM News TV, also highlighted the need for impartial media coverage at this time for the public interest.

“The only reliable media in Somalia today is the independent private media houses. Any attempt to undermine the private media will adversely threaten the public’s need for fair and truthful information. We call for all local and international partners to stand for the safeguarding of the independent media in Somalia,” Mr. Kahiye said.

Participants wrapped up the meeting with a press conference announcing the following:

  • Federal Government of Somalia and its Member States should stop threats against journalists, including arbitrary arrests, and grant journalists and media access to information particularly before, during and after the elections for the interest of the public.
  • Somali government should allow the consultative process of review of the Media Law, and while doing that a moratorium should be imposed on the implementation of certain provisions that impede the freedom of the media and journalists during the electoral season.
  • State security agencies and senior government officials should take immediate steps to ensure the safety of journalists and warn those who threaten or target journalists. Investigations should also be opened for all of cases of attacks against journalists including killings.
  • The international community should support the protection of the freedom of expression, and pressure the Somali authorities and its security agencies to refrain from targeting the independent media and journalists.
  • The international community should not support measures that undermine freedom of expression, including the recent repressive measures taken by the Minister of Information meant to censor and intimidate independent media houses.
  • The international community should support the promotion of freedom of expression and security of journalists before and after the elections.
  • Everyone in the political and social spheres should regard the work of the independent media as a vital part of the state-building process in Somalia.