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Arbitrary arrests, violence, torture and murders against journalists have become popular in Somalia, Amnesty International has said, adding “media freedoms are no longer guaranteed”

Since President Mohamed Abdullahi took over in 2017, cases of unwarranted persecutions if media personalities have been on upward trajectory, with at least 38 journalists detained in 2019.

In a new report, , “We live in perpetual fear”, Amnesty International showcased deterioration of freedom of expression and media and the current regime.

Besides the government crackdown against journalists, the report observed, a number of them have fallen victim to Al-Shabaab militants, who have been trying to topple the fragile UN-backed administration.

Already, eight journalists have gone to exile, further confirming perpetual fear and paranoia reporters are subjected to in the Horn of Africa nation.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, observes that “Somali journalists are under siege”.

She adds: “This crackdown on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom is happening with impunity, the authorities hardly investigate or prosecute perpetrators of attacks on journalists.”

Al-Shabaab, Police role in deaths, torture

Since 2017, at least eight journalists have been murdered; five in indiscriminate Al-Shabaab attacks and three in the hands of government bureaucrats, the report said.

For instance, SBS TV cameraman Abdirirzak Qassim Iman was killed by a police bullet to his head on 26 July 2018, within Waberi district.

Two journalists, Mohamed Sahal Omar and Hodan Nalayeh, were among 26 people killed in an Al-Shabaab attack in a Kismayo hotel in July 2019. 

Awil Dahir Salad of Universal TV, the report adds, was killed in an Al-Shabaab car bomb attack in Mogadishu in December 2018.

In most instances, security forces and Al-Shabaab warn reporters before making their threats real through blatant executions, the group said.

NISA tracking ‘radical’ reporters

As if that’s not enough, authorities have also been using the spy agency NISA, to track, arrest and torture journalists, further worsening freedom of media in Somalia.

More often that not, Fahad Yasin, the NISA boss, has been dragged to internal political wrangles in Somalia, with the opposition putting him on spot in its criticisms.

Zakariye Mohamud, a former Universal TV reporter, has since fled Somalia, citing persistent threats and intimidations by NISA agents.

“The biggest fear for me was from NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency) … I knew they wanted to kill me,” Mohamud said.

He added: “In Mogadishu, you can hide from Al-Shabaab, but you cannot hide from NISA; they could easily pick me from my office. I decided to leave.”

NISA has been used as a tool to silence the independent media, with those perceived as radicals seeking asylum elsewhere or facing execution, the report says.

Ali Adan Mumin, another reporter, quit his job after frequent threats and arrests by authorities, followed by deactivation of his Facebook account.

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Corruption and censorship of media

 

President Abdullahi’s adminstration has also been linked to massive corruption and censorship targeting media industry, a strategy that aims at covering “impunity”.

A media director, who spoke in confidence, said “I used to get a phone call from the official at the Office of the President and would meet with him at a hotel and collect the cash from him”.

The money for positive coverage, he said, would not be deposited in a bag account, a well orchestrated move to cover evidence, Amnesty said.

In reciprocation, management to various media houses ordered journalists and reporters not to write critical articles touching the office of the president and Prime Minister, along with those of insecurity, corruption and torture.

“The quest for a positive image has led the authorities in Somalia to embrace repressive tactics that fly in the face of international human rights standards,” Muchena said. 

“The authorities have an obligation to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, information, and media freedom,” she added.

To remain objective and transparent, the use of social media has become common among journalists and reporters in Somalia, the report adds.

Gov’t trolling journalists on social media

But the strategy to use social media also seems to have backfired, given that Mogadishu administration has also invented a method of taming them.

To monitor journalists, the report adds, the government has employed people who keep trolling them before raising a red flag to Facebook administrators.

Already, 16 Facebook accounts have been permanently disabled in the last two years over claims that they violated “community standards”.

“Facebook must ensure it is not manipulated by the Somalia authorities to undermine the right to freedom of expression, especially ahead of the elections later this year,” Muchena said.

Amnesty International now wants President Abdullahi to immediately order investigations to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

Mogadishu dismisses the report

But hours after the release of the report, Mogadishu administration has already gone wild, dismissing it as “fabrications” sponsored by critics in bad faith.

“Somalia… will continue the rule of law which includes media freedom,” the ministry of information said in a statement.

According to the government, “The report has overlooked the achievements registered by the Federal Government in challenging impunity and protecting journalists”.

The government also insists that it will continue defending human rights besides “taking action” against those convicted of committing atrocities.

  Read the report (Click Here)