Somalia dismisses Amnesty report, denies gagging media

Saturday February 15 2020

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed alias Farmaajo.

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed alias Farmaajo in South Africa on May 25, 2019. The Federal Government of Somalia has said the rights abuses of journalists contained in an Amnesty International report are fabricated. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MARY WAMBUI

The Federal Government of Somalia has dismissed an Amnesty International report highlighting increased cases of journalists getting harassed and killed while on duty in the country.

The report, “We live in perpetual fear: Violations and abuses of freedom of expression in Somalia”, was released in Nairobi on Thursday morning.

According to the report, the surge in violent attacks, harassment and intimidation is deeply entrenched in the country, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

The report warns that the situation may get worse now that the country is in its election year.

But the Somali government says the cases listed in the report are fabricated.

The report says journalists continue to face arbitrary arrests, physical attacks and censorship as enforced by the Somali government since February 2017 when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed alias Farmaajo took office.

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The report notes the attack on media freedom in the country is happening mainly on three fronts namely; physical attacks, censorship and social media hounding.

According to Amnesty International, journalists working in Somalia have to contend with not just direct threats from the government and its security forces but also targeted attacks from militia group al-Shabaab.

Eight journalists were killed in South Central Somalia and Puntland in the period under review, while eight others were forced to flee the country since October 2018.

One journalist, Zakariye Mohamud Timaade, formerly of Universal TV, reportedly fled the country in June last year after he received threats from both al-Shabaab and government security forces for publishing two stories on the militia group activities and the capture of three of its members.

“Al-Shabaab were angered by the journalist’s report of their members being captured by Somali national security forces and threatened him with death saying, ‘He would be killed before the three Shabaab men are executed’.”

The second report published in May angered the security agencies because it showed that the militia group was active in the capital Mogadishu, report says.

“He was summoned and interrogated then sent off with a stern warning to keep off security issues but [he] continued to receive several threatening calls that forced him to flee.”

Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, noted that such cases are hardly investigated or prosecuted by the Somali authorities which forces journalists to operate in fear.

“Somali journalists are under siege. From barely surviving explosive-wired cars, being shot, beaten up and arbitrarily arrested, they are working in horrifying conditions,” he told the press.

Mr Abdullahi Hassan, a Somali researcher attached to Amnesty International said journalists in the country also confessed to having been ordered by their seniors to avoid stories that are critical of the president and prime minister, as well as those about insecurity, corruption and human rights violations.

Those who result to using their social media platforms, mainly Facebook and Twitter, to voice their opinions on the ills in the country receive threats from government officials and are often ordered to delete their social media content.

Amnesty accused Facebook of disabling the journalists accounts without conducting investigations to establish what community standards were violated and for denying them an opportunity to appeal.

Facebook head of police in the East African region, Ms Mercy Ndegwa, said the medium was open to holding discussions with Amnesty on the issue.

In a press release, the Somali government denied the allegations, terming them deliberate lies packaged to misguide the general public.

“Majority of the cases (53 percent) described in the report are not accurately media freedom cases and there is no single evidence to back this fabrication. For instance, the alleged victims of those violations were not targeted due to their legitimate media activities. Some of the alleged victims fabricated the cases in order to help them secure successful asylum applications in European countries and the government is fully aware of the circumstance that individuals departed from Somalia,” it said.

The government further claimed that some of the sources cited in the report live and operate in Kenya and Finland and thus are “disreputable impersonators seeking attention through distortion and misrepresentation.”

“The Federal Government of Somalia assures members of the press, friends and citizens of Somalia that it will continue to uphold the rule of law, which includes media freedom, while at the same time remains committed to put in place effective mechanisms to tackle violations against the press.”

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