NAIROBI – The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), a press freedom group, says at least 14 journalists have been arrested and a radio station attacked in the country in just three weeks. The group condemned the latest attacks on media organizations and their workers, which come as Somalia prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Since the beginning of this year, at least 14 journalists have been arrested across Somalia, either for airing views that upset local administrations or for reporting security incidents authorities wanted to keep quiet.
Osman Aweys Bahar is one of the arrested journalists. South West federal state security officers stormed his radio station in the town of Barawe, taking him into custody and pulling the FM station off the air.
“They arrested me because we aired the opinions of the public, complaining about the bad governance of Barawe town on the radio, Bahar said. “I was in jail for four days and the four days I was behind bars the radio was off the air. I was released after elders intervened on the issue but they told me to continue with my work and to stop airing the voices of those opposing the administration.”
On Wednesday of last week, authorities in Galmudug federal state arrested two journalists. Abdiweli Jamaa, the director of the office of president, told VOA the two reporters were arrested for sharing sensitive security details and the president’s activities in Puntland state.
“These journalists have directly violated media laws and regulations that are preventing the journalists from interfering with the peace of the people, reporting on something that injures the peaceful existence of the people. If you check their social media pages they reported something that has effects on the security of the region and its leaders and this kind of reporting brings a lot of problems,” Jamaa said.
The journalists were released the following day.
The SJS, which fights for the rights of journalists and free media, says it’s worried about the rising number of detained journalists.
Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the secretary-general of the organization, says the upcoming elections are a key factor driving the arrests.
“There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding this election and journalists are trying to get the news out and to feed information for the public interest. But unfortunately, the authorities do not want to see that. That’s why you see they are targeting journalists, they are targeting local radio stations including radio in Beledweyne. Also, since they are local complaints, uprisings in various states the local authorities are trying to suppress these voices,” Mumin said.
The current Somali government mandate ends February 8 with no end in sight to the disagreement over how to conduct the parliamentary and presidential elections.
The growing tension has increased the appetite for news, but may lead to further problems for Somali journalists as they try to keep the public informed.