Speaking on World Press Freedom Day, and responding to an appeal from the IFJ’s affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo committed to scrap Somalia’s excessively harsh and severe Penal Code which was enacted in 1964 “to ensure it is not used against journalists”.
President Farmaajo said his “administration fully supports the decriminalisation of journalism and free expression through legal reform” and “will not tolerate any infringement against the press.”
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We commend President Farmaajo for making this important declaration to repeal the Penal Code of Somalia with the explicit intention of protecting journalists and freedom of expression. This is a crucial achievement not only for journalism in Somalia, but a great encouragement for enjoying the right to freedom of expression”.
According to NUSOJ, the Somali Penal Code is one of the biggest threats to media freedom in Somalia as it contains provisions outlawing insult, false news, sedition and certain types of defamation, which expressly criminalise various types of expression, preventing the media from reporting fairly on matters of public concern and citizens from debating such matters. This archaic law is routinely used to arrest and jail journalists, leading to self-censorship and a stifling of public debate on critical issues.
“The harassment of journalists with criminal prosecutions and hefty fines has led to widespread self-censorship and threatened independent journalism in all regions of Somalia. This situation has seriously hampered the ability of citizens to freely express themselves” added Bellanger. “Somalia needs new and progressive legal tools to safeguard media freedom”.
In light of the announcement, the IFJ has backed calls by NUSOJ to drop criminal charges against Mukhtar Mohamed Atosh of Voice of America – Somali Service and Abdiasis Ahmed Gurbiye of Goobjoog Media Group who were released on bail but still face criminal charges brought by the Offices of the Attorney Generals in Baidoa and Mogadishu.
Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General said: “Most imprisoned journalists have been convicted under this Penal Code. The full and unhindered practice of journalism and the right to free expression have been undermined by a flurry of criminal charges that have resulted in excessively prohibitive judgments. Journalists have been at the receiving end of prison sentences and crippling fines for the dissemination of information deemed uncomfortable”.
The IFJ has urged Somali journalists and media organisations to observe journalistic ethics and standards in discharging their professional responsibilities.
“Somali journalists are working in dreadful working conditions and they are not remunerated properly which is undermining quality journalism and their public service duty. As the legal system of the country improves, labour rights of journalists must be strengthened which will reinforce their ability to promote and sustain ethical journalism”, stressed Bellanger.
The IFJ will continue working with NUSOJ to improve journalists' working conditions & the quality of journalism.