The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) joins the rest of the world in celebrating 2020 World Press Freedom Day which is being commemorated under unusual and extremely difficult circumstances due to challenges and hardships stemming from COVID-19 pandemic.
Albeit the terrible conditions, and the threat to health and safety, hundreds of journalists and other media workers across the country have continued to serve on the frontline to ensure the people are informed and educated about the dangers of COVID-19.
Following the imposition of the curfew in Mogadishu, NUSOJ made representation to the government and secured classification of journalists and news media organisations as key/essential service providers who are exempted from the curfew restrictions.
NUSOJ salutes these men and women in the media who have shown amazing resilience and exemplary commitment in the fight against Coronavirus. The union calls on the government, regional authorities and media owners to guarantee the provision of safe and healthy working conditions for journalists and other media workers who are on the frontline.
The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”, is not only apt but also timely. NUSOJ is saddened to observe a climate of extreme fear within journalists’ community as attacks on journalists through killing, arbitrary detention, malicious arrests, prosecution or brutal physical assaults, arbitrary confiscation of equipment negatively impact on their ability to gather and objectively impart information without fear or favour.
From January this year to 3 May, NUSOJ documented 13 wanton acts in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Afgoye, Bule Burte, Garowe, Galkayo which have a chilling effect on journalists. Such painful acts are aimed at silencing critical journalists and keeping the citizenry under control and perpetual fear. The journalists are attacked for simply discharging their professional duties, or expressing their views through the mainstream or the social media channels.
In recent weeks, journalists find themselves in the dock often on trumped up charges under Somalia’s outdated and draconian Penal Code as an attempt to silence journalists that are critical of the authorities or government officials.
These uncalled for and uncorroborated accusations are envisioned to coerce, criminalise and threaten journalists and their news media organisations. The criminal accusations are further aimed at instilling self-censorship among independent journalists and above all, to stifle and suffocate press freedom.
“You cannot be talking about freedom of the media, while at the same time harassing and arresting journalists seen to be critical or offensive on obstinately bogus charges,” NUSOJ Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman alarmed. “Reporters doing their journalistic work must not be regarded as criminals”.
NUSOJ fears that the police and judicial authorities will use the criminal allegations to justify their actions to intimidate, harass, arrest, assault and fabricate further charges against journalists, and as a result scare the media from giving comprehensive coverage to fight against global pandemic COVID-19.
Since 2019 World Press Freedom Day, the Federal Government of Somalia has made a number of very positive pledges and took concrete actions against errant soldiers when it comes to press freedom and the fight against impunity.
“With just a few months ahead of almost unprecedented national elections and amid a worldwide sanitarian crisis, Somalia is at a turning point of its History. No one can now deny that reliable and credible information is more important than ever and that it should be the cornerstone of a society. As press freedom is still under significant threats in Somalia with journalists being killed or arbitrarily arrested way too often, RSF is advocating for new significant reforms to be implemented as soon as possible. The federal government and the president have demonstrated willingness to fight against impunity for the crimes committed against journalists,” said Arnaud Froger, Head of Africa Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“They now have a huge responsibility to continue on this path. Reducing the level of exactions against media professionals and breaking the cycle of violence can only be achieved with significant reforms. A national mechanism dedicated to the safety of journalists and a moratorium on arrests of journalists in the course of their duty until a new and more protective media law is adopted are a way forward. Low ranking in the Press Freedom Index as Somalia has been used to for many years is not inevitable. It is not a matter of fate. It is essentially about political will and strong commitment to establish long-lasting solutions in favour of press freedom. It is within reach,” emphasised Froger.
“The Federal Government should ensure that the criminal justice system is not used to harass or intimidate journalists. We cannot hope to make human rights protection truly a national priority without an end to organised judicial harassment of journalism and attacks on media freedom” added Osman.
NUSOJ is calling for:
1. All existing criminal charges levelled against journalists should be dropped.
2. All laws (Somali Penal Code) criminalizing journalism and freedom of expression should be struck off the law books.
3. Draft Media Law is draconian and must not be signed into law.
4. People should have access to information, and access to information law should be enacted.