Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in Africa and presents a real risk of death for journalists. State officials and a corrupt judiciary system are a serious obstacle to press freedom, while journalists were killed in crossfire, bombings, terrorist attacks or in targeted attacks.
Since 2010, 58 journalists have been killed, with the deadliest year being 2012 with 18 killings. The level of impunity remains at its highest as, until the date, only 4 killers (three Al-Shabaab fighters and one policeman) have been found guilty of murdering journalists by court of law.
Widespread violence against journalists since the beginning of the year
The current violence towards journalists in Somalia is high and comes in many forms. So far this year, the IFJ affiliate National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has registered more than 20 serious cases of crimes against journalists, including the killing of a journalist in Puntland region.
Veteran freelance journalist Jamal Farah Adan was fatally killed in a targeted attack on March 1, 2021 in Galkayo city, in the Somali state of Puntland. Witnesses of the crime scene, two men shot him while he was seated in front of a shop owned by his family and then ran away. Jamal, who used to report on Al-Shabaab terrorist group operations in the area, had denounced death threats the weeks before the attack and was seeking safety outside Galkayo city. Any person has been detained yet for this heinous crime.
Somali media workers work under the menace of terrorist groups such as the Al-Shabab movement, which has been active since 2006 and is responsible for the death of several journalists. In 2019, TV journalists Mohamed Omar Sahal and Hodan Nalayeh were killed in a bomb attack on a hotel by the Al-Shabaab militants, while cameraman Abdinasir Abdulle Ga’al died in a bomb blast targeting a local military base in the southwest of Mogadishu.
The impunity level of these crimes is at its record. According to NUSOJ, only three journalists’ killers from Al-Shabab have been prosecuted, sentenced to death and executed by firing squad. Equally, a policeman in Mogadishu was found guilty in absentia of killing a young journalist Abdirisaq Iman but the convict remains on the run and is evading justice. The IFJ and NUSOJ welcomed the investigation and prosecution of journalists’ killers but vigorously oppose to death penalties.
The Somali authorities war against press freedom
These targeted killings are the peak of an iceberg of widespread violence and harassment towards Somali media workers of which the Somali authorities are also responsible.At different levels, the Federal Member States or regional administrators are major abusers that are responsible for all arrests, detentions and compromised court sessions.
In this context, the judiciary in the Federal Member States stands out as the leading violator of the right to freedom of information. The courts scored a 99% conviction rate in cases where spurious charges were brought against journalists. The judiciary sanctioned unjustified detention of journalists whenever people in position of power were unhappy with and raised complaints about the work of journalists. NUSOJ observed that courts in the Federal Member States were convicting journalists as they were charged. This means instead of delivering justice, local judges were being misused to facilitate the victimisation of journalists.
Not only the regional judiciary authorities are beign used poltically against press freedom, the Somali police has a long record of arbitrary detentions and harassment of journalists for simply doing their job. Just in the last two months, journalist Mohamed Abdiweli Tohow was arrested by Galmudug authorities for covering militia attacks in central Somalia while Mowlid Ismail Diged was detained by Somaliland authorities after covering the mass arrests and detentions of Somalis from southern Somalia.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. Nearly three dozen cases of serious violations of media rights and freedoms were monitored, investigated and reported by NUSOJ during 2020. 2021 doesn’t seem to have different figures, as Somali police official show growing disrespect to independent reporting they dislike.
The IFJ and NUSOJ have repeatedly called on the security forces to comply with their obligations under national and international law, prosecute all those responsible for the human rights abuses in criminal courts, and to protect journalists on duty, but no significant actions have followed
The Somali Penal Code, which dates from 1964, is still being routinely used to arrest and judicially harass journalists, while the appointing of a Special Prosecutor for journalists’ crimes in 2020, which should have been a significant step to end with the high impunity levels in Somalia, has not yet made a difference.
Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General, said: “Impunity, the worst enemy of media freedom in Somalia, has become the norm while efforts to uproot are being politicised. This is why we need the investigations into the killings ordered by the court to proceed with the culprits being brought to book swiftly.