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Journalists face threats, intimidations ahead of Jubbaland elections

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The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemns multi-pronged attacks by Jubbaland authorities in Kismayo against journalists reporting on sensitive issues, threatening freedom of expression ahead of elections slated for August 2019.

Journalists reporting on campaign activities of individuals who declared their intent to run for the presidency in Jubbaland, political disputes between Federal Government and Jubbaland administration and counterterrorism/security operations, among other sensitive issues, have faced intimidation, discrimination and job loss.

On 17 May 2019, Jubbaland attorney general Mohamed Sheikh Osman Said summoned specifically identified journalists who were believed to be critical to the current administration in an effort to restraint criticism of the Jubbaland administration. The journalists, who anonymously spoke to NUSOJ in fear of reprisal, affirmed that Jubbaland attorney general warned them that they “cannot report anything that will damage the operations of the administration, or any negative comments about security forces, and if they do so the office (attorney general office) will be responsible for punishing any disobeying journalist without any hesitation”.

On 24 May 2019, Jubbaland police briefly detained journalist Mohamed Sahal Omar, aka Ga’ma Dhere, reporter of Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) in Kismayo. The reporter was apparently accused of organising demonstration by women and children against disappearance and murder of 8 years old girl. But local journalists believe Mohamed Omar is one of the journalists identified by the administration as “critiquing” journalist.

NUSOJ has documented cases of two journalists who were recently expelled from their home town of Kismayo after they reported “unpleasant” stories about the regional administration and the upcoming elections.

Independent journalists who sought to cover the arrival of Jubbaland presidential aspirants were denied access to the Kismayo airport to cover how candidates are received by their supporters. Some journalists feel pressure on media owners by the administration to censor or drop stories filed by their reporters or even told to tone down criticism of Jubbaland administration.

Other threats to local journalists are subtler and more covert, such as police or intelligence officers phoning or visiting journalists and hinting violence if a particular news report is chased or reported.  In some examples, the officers warned journalists to fear the life of their families.

To be practicing journalist in Kismayo, the administration obligates local journalists to go through vetting process and obtain press card whereby any journalist will be first screened by intelligence and security agency after the journalist pays a fee of $25, followed by approval letter from the Ministry of Information upon payment of $10 to $15 to the ministry, and finally the journalist will have to pay another $10 to $15 to cards printing company, Smart technology.

“Journalists in Kismayo have borne the brunt of administration abuse and the local media have also faced retaliations for critical reporting. These attacks and intimidation against journalists are not random incidents but appear as part of a larger plan to gag independent journalists,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

“Obviously, Jubbaland administration has stepped up multi-pronged attacks on the media aimed at shaping coverage of the upcoming elections and curbing criticism of the administration. This must stop. One of the foundations of free expression is the right to criticize those in positions of power,” added Osman.

NUSOJ urges the Jubbaland authorities to cease forthwith attacks against journalists and unwarranted pressures on media houses, and to tolerate open reporting and commentaries on any issue of public concern, such as the ongoing elections campaigns.