By Abdalle Ahmed Mumin
Over the course of the year 2020, press freedom and journalists working in Somalia continue to face serious threats. Somalia maintains its unenviable title as one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism globally. Threats and attacks from government officials, private individuals and the militant al-Shabaab insurgency remain the norm.
For the fifth year in a row, Somalia tops the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index1 for countries where the perpetrators against journalists escape prosecution. Authorities -whether in the federal level or the regional states- repeatedly failed to investigate cases of killings or attacks on journalists, media outlets and critics in 2020.
Journalists seeking to report on security issues, wrongdoings of state officials and human rights abuses have regularly faced harassment and intimidation and many have been compelled to resort to self-censorship. As the country is now in transition and prepares to hold its elections, the problems have increased further.
In addition to the ongoing violence against journalists, authorities in Somalia have imposed a draconian media law that restricts freedom of expression, censors’ journalists and administers harsh punishments for any reporting considered critical of the state such as reporting national security or even scrutinizing public officials.
The year 2020 has been another terrible one for the media and Somali journalists. Two broadcast journalists were killed and four others injured– with half of the attacks committed by the state security forces. Predominantly police, NISA and agents of security services in the regional states arbitrarily arrested 56 journalists. Authorities also raided and shuttered five media houses across the country throughout the year. In each case, authorities have failed to open any credible investigation to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book.
State officials in Mogadishu, Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West State, Jubbaland and in Somaliland have particularly targeted journalists reporting various topics including but not limited to Covid- 19 pandemic, aftermath of al-Shabaab attacks 2, insecurity incidents, election campaigns-related complaints, corruption and mismanagement of public resources.
Covering demonstrations, mainly those are known to be anti-government, have also sparked police actions against journalists. Almost 90% of the attacks occur while journalists were on duty and while going through security checkpoints.
Despite verbal commitments by president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to decriminalize journalism and carry out reform of local laws— such as the outdated Somali Penal Code of 1964, which is widely used to prosecute journalists — attacks and arrests of journalists continued.
The Somali Attorney General has also failed to implement a promised appointment of a national level special prosecutor that can investigate and prosecute killers of the journalists. If fulfilled, this could have reduced attacks against journalists and could have ended the culture of impunity for the journalists’ killers.
This report covers 2020 violations against the journalists and the freedom of the press including threats, harassment, arrests, censorship, attacks and killings of journalists in Somalia including Somaliland. The report presented here is based on interviews with local journalists, media directors, family members of affected journalists, civil society representatives and government officials. The Somali Journalists Syndicate, an independent journalists’ organization designed to support and speak out for Somali journalists countrywide, has documented and confirmed these cases from 1 January to 31 December 2020.
- This is an executive summary of the annual report by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin is Secretary General, Somali Journalists Syndicate. The full report can be found here: https://sjsyndicate.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/SJS-2020-ANNUAL-REPORT-State-of-Press-Freedom-in-Somalia-in-2020.pdf