Somalia; where journalists are persecuted for performing their duties by gov't and Al-Shabaab
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The last one month has been extremely difficult for journalists working in Somalia, Human Rights Watch has said in a report, citing classic examples of intimidations and harassment of those believed to be targeted unfairly.
Since mid-April this year, three journalists were detained arbitrarily; with authorities accusing two of committing "crimes" even as authorities also temporarily closed down Radio Barawe, for broadcasting in local Bravanese dialect.
The intimidations come amid an ongoing battle against Coronavirus, where journalists are expected to play an integral role in information dissemination. As of Saturday, Somalia had recorded over 680 positive cases, 31 deaths, and 28 recoveries.
With the country also anticipating polls later on this year, the attitude of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo's administration has left many reporters disillusioned, with little support from the international community.
But Human Rights Watch now wants reporters to use World Press Freedom Day on Sunday [today] to robustly agitate for "true" freedom, which has been mutilated by both the government and the Al-Shabaab militants.
“Somali authorities should stop jailing and harassing journalists at the very time when getting the news is crucial,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “An independent media protected from abuse is key to ensuring that Somalis have information to make informed decisions during the pandemic.”
For instance, Mukhtaar Mohamed Atoosh, a local VOA reporter in Baidoa, was arrested and incarcerated for two days on April 20. A court document stated that he was under investigation on charges of “publication of false, exaggerated news” and “giving the false alarm to the authorities.”
But in his own account, police arrested and questioned him for reporting alleged rape incidents between Baidoa-Mogadishu, in which Somali National Army [SNA] was implicated. One of the victims has since died.
On April 14, the police summoned Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye, the chief editor and deputy director of the private Goobjoog Media Group, to the Hodan police station in Mogadishu, where there was a warrant for his arrest.
Gurbiye has sensationally accused Villa Somalia of seizing ventilators from the main COVID-19 treatment center in Martini Hospital. Further, he questioned the "unacceptably slow" response of the government to the pandemic.
On April 15, prosecutors before the Benadir regional court said that they were investigating Abdiaziz on charges of “offending the prestige and honor of the head of state” and “publication of false news,” among other provisions. He has since been released on bail.
And even more worrying, spy agency NISA accused renowned journalist Harun Maruf of VOA of allegedly being a "danger" to national security in a post published on Twitter, April 2. Weeks later, the agency claimed that "we've recommended for prosecution against Maruf".
For Mohamed Abdiwahab Nur alias Abuuja, it's been an agonizing two months in prison without trial. Arrested by NISA agents on Feb. 27, Abuuja was recently linked to Al-Shabaab militants, with authorities accusing him of planning and executing a woman in Mogadishu.
On April 28, Human Rights Watch wrote to Attorney General Suleiman Mohamed Mohamoud asking for details of the status of investigations to all the cases but according to the group, authorities in Mogadishu are yet to respond.
On April 24, the police briefly held Farhan Mohamed Hussein, a reporter with Radio Kulmiye, while covering a sudden outbreak of protests against the police, after the police fatally shot two people during a coronavirus curfew.
They detained Farhan shortly after he arrived at the scene of the shootings, and took him to the Bondhere district police station, where he was forced to delete his photos and audio, and then released him.
In February, Amnesty International released a report dubbed "we live in perpetual fear" in which it cited several cases in which journalists have either been arbitrarily detained, forced to flee from Somalia or in worst scenarios, executed.
But despite evidence of harassment and intimidations, FGS has often insisted that its actions are "guided" by the law, adding that "Somalia respects media freedoms contrary to negative information being published". The response was given by the ministry of information.
The Somali government should ensure that the public is kept informed and that people are allowed to express their views, including to criticize the government’s response to Covid-19, Human Rights Watch said.
“The free flow of information is especially important in addressing and curbing the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bader said. “The government should be encouraging coverage of the pandemic and taking to heart people’s concerns and fears, rather than trying to stop the flow of information.”