Violence, state impunity and threats to journalists appear to go hand in hand, according to new findings by a press freedom lobby.
And as the world marked the International Day to End Crimes against Journalists on Tuesday, press freedom campaigners said risks for media practitioners appear to rise whenever authorities cannot take full charge of their territories or there are weak institutions to run those governments.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned at a virtual media forum on Tuesday the world will never move into total freedom until it has secured it for journalists.
“No society can be free without journalists who can investigate wrongdoing and speak truth to power,” he said at a function to mark the day set aside by the UN General Assembly nine years ago.
“I urge countries to investigate and prosecute crimes against them with the full force of the law.”
Since the Day was established, more than 800 journalists have been beaten, injured, threatened or murdered “for doing their jobs”, the UN says.
And no country in Africa has seen its journalists work while looking over their shoulders like Somalia.
At a function to mark the day, in Nairobi, representatives from Somalia’s press freedom lobbies said there were daily threats from both authorities and terrorist groups, making it victims of supposed protectors and usual violators.
“They have suffered for carrying out their journalism work,” observed Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary-General of the National Union of Somali Journalists.
“Many have been arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted. They have been persecuted for being journalists.”
Somalia has traditionally been Africa’s most dangerous zone for journalists. And regardless of Covid-19 or any other crisis befalling the region, the persecutions continue, Osman said.
This year, an independent journalist known as Jamal Farah Adan was killed while chasing a story in Galkayo, Somalia. Three journalists were shot and injured, and three others were beaten by thugs believed to be rogue security officers, according to a bulletin by NUSOJ.
Still, five outlets were raided and partially closed as other journalists were given warnings. NUSOJ says Mogadishu - the capital of Somalia, Puntland, Jubbaland, Galmudug and Somaliland states have been especially notorious.
In the last nine years, at least 60 journalists have been murdered in Somalia, Osman said, indicating no change in the country’s threats.
“Some 78 journalists were violently wounded from 2010 to 2021 for carrying out their journalism work, while more than 380 were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted for carrying out their journalism work,” Mr Osman notes. He adds that both bona fide authorities and the militant group Al-Shabaab are responsible for some of these crimes.
International Day to End Crimes against Journalists was created in 2013 for an annual observance by member states. It was established to mark the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013.
By creating the day, the UN asked the member states to prevent violence against journalists and media workers “to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against them, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.”
But Somalia has had 25 unresolved murders of journalists since then, with the suspects walking free.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), crimes committed against journalists aided by Somalia authorities and armed non-state actors, top global statistics followed by Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Afghanistan.
CPJ says in a new report that 278 journalists have been killed in the world in the last ten years.
Of these, the report noted, 226 murders, representing 81 percent, either remain unsolved or saw the perpetrators roaming free.
“These journalists were killed in a nexus of corruption, organised crime, extremist groups, and government retaliation.” the report stated.
The crimes committed against journalists are part of decades that saw hundreds of thousands of civilian people arbitrarily detained and arrested, forcibly disappeared, extrajudicially killed and tortured, including journalists with total impunity.
Evidence indicates that the murders were well planned, politically motivated and in most cases meant to give journalists an indefinite form of censorship for their journalism profession exercise.
In most regional courts, Somali journalists say they are convicted as charged without even considering the available evidence and the application of the law.
Mr Omar says urgent progressive reforms are needed to ensure that public officials and security personnel can be held individually accountable for violations of human rights against journalists.
However, the threats facing journalists transcend violent scenes, with even stable environments posing certain restrictions to media coverage of issues.
On Tuesday, European Union High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell and Vice-President Věra Jourová said in a joint statement that both stable and unstable regions must work for press freedom.
“Unfortunately, the stories and voices of many independent journalists continue to be silenced all over the world, including in the EU. They face an increasing number of threats and attacks, including assassinations in the most tragic cases,” they said, citing a UNESCO observatory report.
The report shows 44 journalists have so far been killed this year in which, incidentally, two journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov received the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize as a recognition of their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
“Independent journalists protect freedom of expression and guarantee access to information for all citizens. They contribute to the foundations of democracy and open societies. Be it at home or around the globe, the impunity for crimes against journalists must end.”