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Disdain for civil liberties and respect for rule of law continues unabated in Somalia

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The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) expresses outrage over continued attempts by the Ministry of Information of the Federal Government of Somalia to try to capture and control the leadership of the union, as well as manipulate some media managers in order to advance its agenda of trying to undermine the freedom and independence of NUSOJ.

Since the ruling of the Supreme Court of Somalia on 4th February 2016 on the case between NUSOJ as plaintiff vs Ministry of Information and Ministry of Labour as defendants, the Ministry of Information, affirming the true and legitimate leadership of NUSOJ, the erring ministries and their officials have been failing to come to terms with the just verdict. Rather, they have since been organising nefarious activities in order to recover from the tremendous legal defeat that stopped them in their tracks from further undermining and criminally impersonating NUSOJ and their legitimate leaders.

On the night of 12 February 2016, the Ministry of Information used State Security apparatus, particularly the Ministry of Internal Security and National Intelligence & Security Agency (NISA), in a bizarre attempt to disband the General Assembly (GA) that NUSOJ had intended to convoke the next day.

Knowing that NUSOJ leadership will use the occasion of the General Assembly to inform its members, as well as expose the many lies that the ministry of Information has been peddling against the union’s leadership in the past 4 years, Ministry officials doubled efforts including abusing state processes to frustrate the convocation of the GA. This outright violation of the union’s right to freely organise her activities without let or hindrance was flagrantly abused. Thus, over 65 officials and members of NUSOJ have travelled from different cities and town across the country were left stranded in Mogadishu.

It should be noted that the Supreme Court after it has subjected the same ruling to a judicial review on request by the defendants, and upholding the same ruling affirming that NUSOJ is a free and independent organisation led, ordered that the regional appeal court should observe the GA of NUSOJ. Sadly, the Ministry of Information frustrated and undermined all these legitimate processes and directives.

So one is forced to ask, why the brazen disregard for the rule of law? Why are state and government institutions and officials wilfully and serially undermining the consolidation of the practice of the rule of law in Somalia, and the penchant to only observe the rights of citizens and journalists in the breach? The court is supposed to be the hope and last resort of justice to the common persons, as well as a means of attaining law and order in societies. But why are Somali officials behaving as persons above the law? Are these actions an invitation for NUSOJ to take the laws into their own hands?

Furthermore, on 13 February 2016, in a mocking, unserious and insincere manner, the Ministry of Information tried to initiate a dialogue with the legitimate leadership of NUSOJ to come up with a “face saving plan” and “Win-Win” situation.

The ministry premised this so-called truce meeting on the fact that Supreme Court ruling is weighty; NUSOJ had instituted other cases in court to defend and recover spaces and guarantees for their human and trade union rights; donor countries to Somalia are worried that these development put them at odds with their principles of cooperation given that their tax payers’ fund cannot be seen to be funding institutions that abuse human rights and undermine the rule of law; the legal case of violations of the right to freedom of association by the Ministry of Information is again coming up at the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Clearly, it can be seen that the ministry was only interested in what it stands to gain simply because well-meaning and principled organisations and friendly governments are showing uneasiness and making plans to withdraw financial support to the ministry and government sponsored individuals, on account of the disregard for the rule of law, illegality and convulsive penchant to serially abuse and trample on human rights.

NUSOJ Secretary General, Omar Faruk Osman, who attended this meeting with the Minister of Information Mohamed Abdi Hayir Mareye, made it categorically clear that NUSOJ is open to and willing to embrace negotiation. However, this can only be possible if the Ministry shows genuine intention to respect freedom and independence of NUSOJ, as well demonstrate commitment to refrain from interring in the administration and operations of NUSOJ; abide by the civil liberties provisions made in the national provisional constitution, and the respect for the Supreme Court ruling conferring protection to journalists’ rights and trade union’s right to exist freely without government control.

Officials at the Ministry of Information rather threatened to use State Security to disband any of the union meetings and implore usage of draconian media law to crackdown member journalists of NUSOJ by denying them registration and illegalising their work.

In a related development, the Ministry of Information appointed an ad-hoc 9-member committee, labelled as “Conflict-Resolution Committee”. Though, NUSOJ had legitimate questions over the intentions, mandate, scope of work of the Committee and its formation by a Ministry which is part of the said “conflict”, NUSOJ has nevertheless shown goodwill and warm reception to the committee.

Sadly however, as the day passes, the Ministry of Information officials have been fighting the independence of the committee, organising and stage-managing press conferences for the committee to confuse media fraternity, and has started dictating to committee what to do and what not to do, including stating in clear terms certain outcomes that the Ministry will not accept.

Now, the Ministry of Information wants to increase members of this Committee because persons using clan name complained to the Ministry because no representative from their clan is not in the committee.

It is now clear that the same Ministry of Information that was behind the formation of the ad-hoc committee of Conflict resolution is the one that has killed any remaining credibility, trust, integrity and independence of this committee. As part of the conflict, the Ministry of Information should have allowed the committee to work freely and independently without any attempt to manipulate, intimidate and control it to get its own desired results.

Bring in the committee individuals selected on the basis of clan is unashamed affront to the profession of journalism, and constitutes an entrainment and promotion of tribalism. NUSOJ firmly rejects clan-based committee and promotion of tribalism in Somali media fraternity. The union regrets these developments and it is pained to observe that the Ministry is incapable of sincere change and (re)conciliation.

NUSOJ is also fully aware of the pressure and embarrassment the Ministry of information is currently facing over its unacceptable and disgraceful manipulation of genuine trade union leaders and the “fronting” of puppets and “sweetheart” individuals to hoodwink donors to solicit funds for bogus actions.

On 10 March 2016, the Federal Government will be expected to honour the summon by the ILO in Geneva to answer questions on human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Labour against NUSOJ. This comes after the ILO Governing Body had found the same ministries culpable in the serious infraction of human and trade union rights violations against members and leaders of NUSOJ in November 2015.

“We make bold to say we continue to believe in the sanctity and relevance of the rule of law and the instruments necessary for their effectiveness and consolidation. Thus, we shall continue to express our grievances through legitimate and decent means. We refuse to descend to the shameful and criminal level of these privileged government officials who act and behave that they are government to serve and service themselves and their egos and not to provide enduring stewardship to Somalis and the Somali nation,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

Lastly, NUSOJ is alarmed and strongly deplores the recent remark by an official at the Ministry of Information to refuse & deny entry into the country by any organisation working with the legitimate leadership of NUSOJ. The union deems this threat as action and attitude synonymous with a police state. This threat is a clear and open disregard for the rule of law, the subsisting provisional constitution, as well as disrespectful to the simple principles of international cooperation.

NUSOJ wishes to reiterate in strong terms that its rights, its freedoms, its constitution and, sanctity of the judiciary are sacrosanct and non-negotiable. The union expresses sincere appreciations to members and international partners for their undivided support and solidarity in this sacred struggle.