According to IFJ affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), yesterday, 22 July, the Puntland Parliament gave its sudden approval to a draft media law which outlines penalties, fines and suspensions for work from journalists. The law legalises closure of media houses and restricts the editorial independence of media outlets, as well as giving the ministry of information the power to withhold or revoke media house registration. The ministry will also have the authority to issue and withdraw journalists’ identification cards.
Speaking on behalf of the NUSOJ, its Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman has called the media law a “blow to press freedom” and given the union’s full backing to Puntland journalists who have opposed the law’s several suppressive provisions and challenged the Parliament’s decision to approve it without proper consultation.
The NUSOJ also says that on 10 July Somalia’s Council of Ministers passed amended counter-terrorism legislation which was intended to fight terrorism comprehensively and take responsibility for the security of Somali people. The NUSOJ was involved in the consultation process to develop the legislation and made a number of suggestions on protecting freedom of expression which were included in the law.
But the union says several provisions of the legislation remain vaguely phrased, stating that activities like media coverage of terrorist groups’ activities could be interpreted as “supporting a terrorist organisation.” The union fears that the legislation could be used to justify violations of freedom of expression in the name of national security and public order.
“We join our affiliate the NUSOJ in expressing our deep fears about the two new laws that have been approved in Somalia and the Puntland region which in their current form will certainly lead to press freedom violations and give the respective governments the scope to clamp down on freedom of expression and human rights ,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.
“The media law passed in Puntland will destroy press freedom and journalists’ rights and has been passed without democratic consultation, while the vaguely phrased counter terrorism legislation in Somalia could be used by government to supress freedom of expression under the shroud of national security.”
Calling for action and revision, Boumelha added: “We urge the governments of Puntland and Somalia to review and further amend these repressive laws so that they are in line with internationally recognised norms of press freedom and truly represent the rights and freedoms of democratic society.”
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The IFJ represents more than 600 000 journalists in 134 countries