Rights groups slam Somalia for detaining journalist, call for his release
Saturday October 15 2022
The Somali government has come under scrutiny after a senior journalist was detained in the wake of a new policy forbidding reporting on al-Shabaab propaganda statements.
Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the Secretary-General of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), was arrested in Mogadishu on Tuesday as he prepared to board a flight to Nairobi on a business trip.
Amnesty International says the detention of the journalist is illegal.
Mumin’s detention was seen to be related to the opposition of a government directive on giving al-Shabaab a media blackout.
Amnesty Director for East and Southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, said the detention violates freedom of speech.
“Detaining a leading defender of human rights and press freedom on the pretext of national security sends a chilling message to journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who dares to express dissent against the Somali government.
“While the Somali authorities may have legitimate security concerns, the ban on disseminating ‘extremist ideology’ is overly broad, vague and leaves the door open to abuse by overzealous security and government officials. This highly restrictive directive is likely to lead to more arbitrary detentions and self-censorship by journalists fearful of reprisals. This is a clear attack on the right to freedom of expression that needs to be urgently reverted.”
The Somali government earlier this week banned coverage of what it calls al-Shabaab propaganda or extremist ideology, limiting journalists from reporting on the terror group’s threats or plans.
The decision published this week includes a list of 10 news sites and 1 TV channel. This was shorter than a list the government had earlier stated of 40 websites.
The statement instructed the companies handling communication services to take part in the promotion of security in Somalia.
“This order (stopping the sites employed by the terrorists) is based on Article 10 of Somalia’s (provisional) constitution that safeguards the social stability and integrity,” the statement issued on October 6 says.
And the Somali Ministry of Information issued a directive that “dissemination of extremism ideology messages both from traditional media broadcasts and social media are forbidden.”
A group of media officials expressed concern about the directives.
They included representatives from the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somali Media Fraternity comprising of Somalia Mechanism for Safety of Journalists (SMSJ), Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ) and Somali Media Association (SOMA).
Mumin, a co-founder of SJS, was one of the press-freedom advocates and orators who addressed the media last Monday.
Mumin was later arrested by the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) at Mogadishu’s Adan Abdulle International Airport on Tuesday.
Call for release
As news of Mumin’s arrest spread, local media and international agencies expressed concern on the safety of journalists and freedoms.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement calling for Mumin’s immediate release.
“Abdalle Ahmed Mumin is a fearless and tireless advocate for the rights of Somali journalists to report the news freely and independently. His arrest is an unacceptable aggression and is undoubtedly sending a ripple of fear through the Somali media community,” said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo.
“Authorities should release Abdalle Ahmed Mumin immediately and unconditionally, and should instead work to create a climate in which Somali journalists can work without fear.”
According to media reports, just before his arrest, Mumin had reported that intelligence officials had on Monday evening attempted to forcefully enter into SJS’s office in Mogadishu.
Somali journalists are often caught in tit-for-tat between the government and Al-Shabaab.
After the recent government order on a media blackout, al-Shabaab warned the media against siding with the government.
A Bayaan (a declaration) issued by the Al-Qaeda linked militant group said, “We are hereby warning all the media houses [operating] inside Somalia joining the war against the Islamic Sharia [Islamic laws].”
“Any media that intentionally sides with the (Somali) government will be considered as part of the aggression [against us – Al-Shabaab],” it added, insisting that journalists should do their job in a neutral manner.
“You are trustees and must discharge your jobs in full fairness.”
The Ministry of Communication and Technology stressed that its media blackout order was in line with provisions of the 2017 National Communication Act.
Difficult working environment
In 2015, then Director of NISA General Abdirahman Mohamud Turyare ordered the media to call Al-Shabaab by an abbreviation UGUS (Ururka Gumaadka Ummada Soomaaliyeed), which translates into the “Organisation that exists for the annihilation of the Somali Nation.”
Several days later, Al-Shabaab sent out a message telling journalists to call the government using a similar abbreviation but with different meaning: UGUS (Ururka Gumaynta Ummada Soomaaliyeed), which translates into the “Organisation that exists for the enslavement of Somali Nation.”
That two opposing sides used the Somali terms, Gumaadka and Gumaynta, i.e. annihilation and enslavement, caused worry in 2015.
Similar orders by the government and the jihadist group have pushed journalists into a tight corner.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists to operate. Dozens of local and foreign journalists have been killed over the past three decades, while others have been kidnapped, harassed or the operations of their media houses suspended.