On 3 May 2010 Somali journalists and news media organizations join the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom to raise awareness on the importance of media freedom and remind the federal government and regional authorities of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression and access to information as enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as articles 18 and 32 of provisional constitution of Somalia.
The period from 3 May 2013 to 3 May 2014 has been characterized by continued arrests, harassment, and killing of journalists as well as attacks on media houses which run against the grain of the right to the exercise of freedom of expression and media freedom.
The Union was horrified by an attack on broadcast journalist Abdulkadir Abdirisak Soofe, reporter for Royal TV, on the evening of 29 May 2013. Soofe was badly wounded after he was shot at close range in Kismayo.
Draconian sentences have been handed to journalists in Somaliland by the compromised judiciary in Hargeisa. Hassan Hussein Abdullahi and Mohamed Ahmed Jama – who are editor-in-chief and director of Hubaal newspaper respectively were sentenced on 3 July 2013. Hassan Hussein Abdullahi received a two-year jail term and a fine of two million Somaliland shillings, while Mohamed Ahmed Jama, also known as Aloley, received a one-year jail term and was fined one million Somaliland shillings. Somaliland President later pardoned both journalists.
Somali journalists were again shocked and saddened to learn the cold-blooded murder of journalist Liban Abdullahi Farah, who had been working for the Bossasso-based Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and London-based Kalsan TV, on 7 July 2013 in Galkayo.
On 11 July 2013, Somalia’s council of ministers passed a draft media law which is expected to replace the December 2007 media law. But journalists and press freedom community, which is independent of government control, believe that this draft law is not in line with international standards of freedom of expression, and could seriously restrict media pluralism, curb the independence of the press and impose a chilling effect on freedom of expression and public debate.
In the same month, journalists were injured in southern Somalia after Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab used an improvised explosive device (IED) to attack African Union peacekeeping forces. Mus’ab Abdullahi Adan and Farah Sahal Omar, who are working for Mogadishu-based Radio Dalsan and Radio Goobjoog respectively as Kismayo reporters, were wounded by an armed group in Kismayo after they had come to cover the IED attack.
On 22 July, authorities in Somaliland officially banned the operations of Kalsan TV in Somaliland for broadcasting critical interviews and the term used to call the administration. Kalsan TV is based in London but has offices across the country.
On 2 August 2013, armed men followed Awil Mohamud Abdi, the director of Radio Galkayo, from the radio station. Five minutes later – when Abdi had arrived his house and turned on the light in his bedroom – seven bullets slammed into the bedroom window near where he had been standing. Awil threw himself to the ground. Holes in his bedroom wall and bullets on the floor were found. Abdi was fortunately unhurt.
Ahmed Sharif Ahmed, a senior technician at Radio Mogadishu, was murdered at around 8:30 am on 17 August 2013. Ahmed was murdered in his home in Shibis district in north Mogadishu by three men armed with pistols. The killers, believed to be Al-Shabaab, escaped from the scene.
On 21 September 2013, the then Puntland Minister of Information, Communications, Culture and Heritage Ahmed Sheikh Jama Yusuf announced the closure of Universal TV in Puntland for an indefinite period. The TV station was closed down due to its lack of live coverage of a speech by the Puntland President at the New Deal Conference in Brussels, Belgium, on 16 September 2013. It was later allowed to resume its operation.
Gunmen hurled two hand bombs at Radio Daljir in Galkayo at around 20:00 on 15 October 2013, before speeding off. The news director, editors and reporters who were preparing for the evening broadcast, and a guard were in the station at the time of the explosion, which destroyed the station’s wall and damaged the staff vehicle. No one was injured.
Journalist Mohamed Mohamud Tima’ade of Universal TV died on 26 October 2013 after suffering from internal bleeding and blood loss; he died in Madina hospital at around 6:00pm that evening. On 22 October 2013, gunmen had fired at Tima’ade, 26, in an attempt to kill him. Six bullets hit Tima’ade on the neck, shoulder, chest and stomach, leaving the journalist as a “dead person”.
On 26 October 2013, security personnel cordoned off the building hosting Radio Shabelle and SkyFM, both part of Shabelle Media Network. The police restricted the entry and exit of the workers, and then broke the gate of the building with a terrorist response police vehicle and forcefully entered the building. Security forces, who started beating journalists with butts of their guns, violently ransacked the media house.
In the same month, the then Minister of Information, Posts, Telecommunication and Transport, Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi, had given his Ministry of Information broad powers to issue and arbitrarily revoke licenses for radio and TV stations and printing presses. The Minister requested from the Ministry of Interior & National Security to close down any media houses without licences after 10 November.
On 28 December 2013, forces of the Interim Juba Administration raided the home of Nasteho Mohamed Omar, a reporter for the Mogadishu-based Sky FM and arrested her. On the same day, the administration also arrested journalist Mohamed Hassan Hiis, which made him the third journalist to be arrested in Kismayo within seven days after journalist Adan Mohamed Salad (known Adan Kismayo), a reporter with Somali National TV in Kismayo, who had been briefly arrested earlier. The journalists were released after brief detentions.
Faysal Jama Adan, a reporter for Radio Bar Kulan, was briefly arrested on 3 January 2014 by police in Las Anod. Police attempted to stop Adan from covering the demonstration by businesswomen after number of businesswomen were arrested by the police on 2 January.
Somaliland Minister of Information, Culture and National Guidance Abdullahi Mohamed Dahir (Ukuse) announced on 3 February 2014 that they had revoked the operating licence of the London-based broadcaster Universal TV, alleging that the TV station accustomed to transmit “scandals” and “insults” against Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Silanyo).
On 5 February 2014, security forces under the instructions of the Baidoa district administration, beat and briefly detained Ali Ilyas Abdullahi, a journalist working for Radio Warsan and HornCable TV in Baidoa. The attack occurred after Abdullahi was blamed of attending and covering a meeting taking placing at the Bakin Hotel, where elders and politicians discussed the formation of a regional state in the southwestern region of Somalia.
On 21 February, Journalist Ahmed Said Ahmed of Radio Kulmiye was seriously wounded at the right side of the chest and right shoulder after Al-Shabaab fighters wearing suicide vests and carrying guns and grenades attacked Villa Somalia, the presidential palace.
In March this year, Galmudug security forces arrested an Al-Shabaab fighter by the name of Abdihakim Hassan Hamud in Galkayo. On him, they found a list of Mudug region officials, journalists and business people that he was supposed to assassinate. At the top of Al-Shabaab’s hit list was the director of Radio Galkayo, Awil Mohamud Abdi, whom they planned to assassinate on 3 March, according to the list discovered by the security forces; Hamud also admitted to wanting to kill Abdi. Abdi’s picture was also found on Hamud. The apprehended Al-Shabaab fighter had six other journalists on the hit list.
On 10 March 2014, NUSOJ condemned the guilty verdict and prison sentence against veteran Somali journalist Mohamed Aweys Mudey in Ethiopia as “outrageous and unacceptable”. The journalist was sentenced to 27 years in prison in the last week of February 2014, under Ethiopia’s anti-terror law. He did not have a lawyer or family member with him during his trial. Mudey was badly tortured.
Hubaal newspaper in Hargeisa, Somaliland, has been closed since 13 December 2013, following a raid by the police rapid reinforcement unit (RRU). Police continue to occupy the newspaper’s headquarters.
Nuradin Hassan Ibrahim, editor of SkyFM Radio in Mogadishu, was arrested at the Crimes Investigations Department (CID) headquarters in Mogadishu on 30 March 2014, following a summons from officials. Nuradin has been questioned on how his station obtained news about a passport stolen from an official stationed at the Prime Minister’s office. He was released after three days in detention.
On 7 April 2014, Somaliland police implemented a shutdown order against the independent daily newspaper Haatuf after being issued by Marodi Jeeh Regional Court in Hargeisa. Some hundred police forces came to the headquarters of the newspaper and ordered journalists and media workers to vacate. Police currently occupy the premises of the newspaper.
Somaliland administration decided to intensify its campaign to suppress and intimidate Haatuf newspaper by blocking access to its news site www.haatuf.net in Somaliland. The banning of the news site – which also targeted news site of Haatuf’s sister paper www.somalilandtimes.net– was reportedly ordered by Hargeisa’s Marodi Jeeh Regional Court on 16 April and was promptly effected.
Mohamed Omar Mohamed, known Amaar, an advertising/marketing staffer for Radio Dalsan, was murdered in Bakara Market on 21 April 2014, after he was reportedly shot six times. Killers escaped from the scene.
Despite campaigns over the years by NUSOJ and press freedom groups, the climate of impunity for violations of journalists’ rights remains. Investigations into murders and the threats against journalists have made no headway. Impunity has continued to be the norm when it has come to investigating the murder of journalists during this period.
In conflict-ridden areas, media workers sandwiched between extremist elements and government security forces find it virtually impossible to conduct their work freely and without fear for their safety.
Safety and security remain priority concerns for Somali media, while journalists in the country also confront enormous difficulties due to lack of decent wages and poor workplace environments.
Another serious concern of the union is officials in federal government and in Somaliland administration making efforts to exert more control over the media by instilling fear for closure or judiciary harassment, forcing outspoken journalists and independent media houses for self-censorship. This has led many journalists to opine that the process of legitimising media suppression is well underway.
A more insidious threat to media freedom emerging in Somalia is the increasing number of media houses coming under government control through political manoeuvring.
NUSOJ implores the federal government to go beyond rhetorical commitments to media freedom by taking visible and tangible steps to free the media space, end impunity, protect safety of journalists and reform draft media law in a transparent and inclusive manner.
Omar Faruk Osman Secretary-General National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)