Much worse than the previous years, judicial harassment on
journalists and union leaders, threats through orders and directives
that curtail press freedom and impose the journalists and the media
houses to remain under self-censorship fearing government reprisals has
become the norm in 2022 and in this way, many stories with public
interest went unreported.
The new directive imposed on the media on October 8, 2022 by the Somali ministry of information
contains a blanket restriction on media freedom and journalists’ right
to access information. Journalists and media houses are concerned that the vague wording in the law would limit their ability to report
freely on ongoing operations against any armed groups and restrict their
The raid on SJS office on October 10, the detention of SJS secretary-general Abdalle Ahmed Mumin on October 11 and the persecution against him are yet another chilling message to all the media fraternity in the country. The raid on SJS office was carried by masked men armed with AK47 rifles led by the commander
of the Somali Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA)’s Howlwadag
district Mr. Shakib shortly after SJS among four press freedom
organization held a joint press conference raising concerns on the ministry of information’s restrictive directive.
Following the October 8 directive, Jubbaland intelligence officers arbitrarily detained Horn Cable TV journalist and SJS press freedom coordinator, Abdullahi
Hussein Kilas, in the port city of Kismayo on October 23, after covering
an attack on a hotel in the centre of Kismayo that day. Kilas was
freed later in the day after authorities forced Horn Cable TV to remove
the his news report. Consequently, authorities in Hirshabelle raided Hiiraanweyn radio in Beledweyne and detained four reporters on December 22, for reporting the withdrawal of
Ma’awisley militia from villages in Hiiraan region over lack of payment.
Galmudug police in Adado also detained two local journalists after interviewing clan elders who allegedly met
with al-Shabaab members on December 25. Local journalists were also
informed to refrain from reporting security related incidents including
According to SJS documentation, arbitrary detention, use of threats,
restrictions and blocking access to information has reached to another
worrisome level throughout 2022 and on the other hand federal and local
authorities have doubled their attacks on journalists covering the
government-declared war between government forces and al-Shabaab in
certain regions of the country. Subsequently, two prominent journalists were killed while ten others were injured in 2022, 84 journalists were arrested, seven media stations/offices were raided and shuttered due to their critical reporting.
SJS has documented a sharp rise of the number of journalists leaving
the country as a result of threats related to their reporting. Over 10
journalists (three of them female reporters) have fled the country to
different countries including Turkey and Kenya. These journalists said
they decided to flee into exile as the pressure and threats from the
authorities grew and crackdown on the free press has made the situation
Restrictions on access to information entrenched self-censorship
among the media. Journalists in Mogadishu, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, South
West and Jubbaland told SJS that they were blocked from major events and
to the scenes of incidents, including sites of Al-Shabaab attacks and
denied access to information on public interests. Journalists have
particularly narrated acts of censorship and intimidation aimed at
stopping them from uncovering serious human rights violations.
Police commanders, judges, government officials, clan leaders and
members of al-Shabaab were described as the key perpetrators of these
violations. Journalists in Puntland told SJS that they were denied
access to cover news reports revealing police wrongdoings and sexual
violence against women and girls. Authorities in Somaliland have used
severe restrictions on access to information including internet outage,
detention of journalists, suspension of media houses as well as threats
intended to silence critical coverage by the local journalists.
Journalists, particularly those covering human rights, have described
about economic hardships as a direct consequence of their work to
document and investigate human rights violations. The hostile attitude
towards journalists covering human rights abuses and the lack of
awareness for the general public also remain as part of the challenge.
Universal access to information means that everyone has the right to
seek, receive and impart information. The media plays a vital role,
particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information
and monitors government actions. The right to universal access to
information is also bound up with the right to freedom of the press.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government of Somalia and its member states
are yet to introduce the Access to Information Bill which is a
constitutional requirement under Article 32 of the Provisional Federal
The growing pressure against Somali journalists and lack of access to
information call for concern. When journalists are blocked, threatened
and their access to information denied, it will entrench a culture of
impunity. Providing and presenting information to the general public,
particularly on human rights violations promotes redress for the victims
or to seek justice regarding perpetrators through legal action.
We are alarmed by the rise of the attacks against the journalists who
are solely targeted for their reporting on the pretext of the Somali
government’s military offensive against al-Shabaab. Sadly, these attacks
on free press were motivated by the 8 October directive by the ministry
of information restricting media coverage on the ongoing security
While we condemn all kinds of attacks on the journalists in the
strongest terms possible, we also reiterate our call for both the
federal government and the federal member states to stop attacks against
journalists and allow the independent media and their journalists to
carry out their duties without threats and detention.
In addition, the Somali media law (amendment 2020) also includes provisions that threaten human rights, including freedom of expression, media freedom and could criminalize reporting and give the government overly broad powers and oversight over media organizations.
The provisions on criminal penalties are vaguely worded and could
give law enforcement authorities wide scope for misinterpretation and
abuse. These include the provision prohibiting reporting on issues
conflicting with “national interest”, “false information”, “incitement
to violence and clannism” and “dissemination of propaganda”.
Furthermore, the law imposes unspecified fines on journalists who
contravene its provisions, and journalists could face prosecution for
failure to pay the fines. It also includes a provision which risks
undermining journalists’ rights to confidential sources and also
contains administrative restrictions that give the Ministry of
Information a broad mandate to regulate the media and media
It’s unfortunate that journalists are now fearful in their country
and are resorting to either self-censor or leave the country. We urge
for the local and federal authorities to end the restriction to access
to information by state and non-state actors in Somalia.
The federal government and the federal member states should create a
safe environment where journalists can exercise their profession without
fear or reprisals and allow review for the media law with the
consultation of the media stakeholders, media associations and
The federal government and the regional states – including Somaliland
– should stop using the penal code for journalists and promptly
finalize a comprehensive review of this outdated code and all other laws
that impede the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, in
addition to other rights, and bring them in line with Somalia’s
constitution and international human rights law and standards.
Mohamed Ibrahim Isak
President, Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
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