Somalia: Freedom of Expression Under Attack

State authorities in Somalia must ensure swift, thorough and lawful investigations into a spate of recent attacks on journalists, and rescind a recent government order that undermines freedom of expression, said the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project in a statement released today.

Daud Ali Omar, a journalist for Radio Baidoa, and his wife were shot dead inside their home in Berdale village, Baidoa by unidentified men on 29 April 2015. Another person, reported to be Daud’s neighbor, was also killed. The armed group Al-Shabaab are widely suspected to be responsible for the killings, although they have not claimed responsibility. The perpetrators remain at large.

In December 2014, two journalists were killed and three others wounded after an attack on a restaurant in Baidoa by Al-Shabaab. In the last few weeks, a photographer in Mogadishu was shot on his way home. Farhan Suleiman Dahir, a photographer for the websites of Radio Mogadishu and the state-run Somali National Television, reportedly covered clashes between government troops and Al-Shabaab militants and may have been targeted by the group for working for state-run media. According to the latest World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders, Somalia remains one of the deadliest countries for media workers in Africa.

Whilst Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for a series of recent appalling human rights violations against journalists and media workers, the Somali government itself appears to be entrenching its own unacceptable restrictions to the right to freedom of expression. In April 2015, twenty-five journalists were reportedly detained and two radio stations closed down, following their coverage of Al-Shabaab’s attack in Garissa, Kenya. According to research carried out by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the media network had only re-commenced broadcasting in mid-March, after authorities raided its offices in August 2014 and arrested three journalists.

It was widely reported yesterday, the day after World Press Freedom Day, that the Somali government has now banned Al-Shabaab’s name from all media and ordered media workers to refer to them as “the group that massacres the Somali people.” An Al-Shabaab spokesman reportedly told Al-Jazeera, “[a]nyone who calls us names we will respond appropriately.” The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project is deeply concerned about this wholly impractical move by the Somali government, which will make sensible and lawful news reporting and public debate about matters of genuine national concern, virtually impossible.

“Journalists in Somalia continue to face acute risks from both state and non-state actors, including Al-Shabaab”, said Hassan Shire, EHAHRDP’s Executive Director. “In this context, the Somali government must initiate thorough investigations, in accordance with regional and international legal standards. We also call on the Somali government to repeal its recent directive, that could endanger the lives of journalists, and further restrict the right to freedom of expression”.

EHAHRDP welcomes today’s historic visit to Somalia by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and calls upon Secretary Kerry to ensure that respect for freedom of expression is placed high on the agenda for discussions with the Somali government.

For more information, please contact:

Hassan Shire, Executive Director, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on: executive@defenddefenders.org or +256 772 753 753

John Foley, Advocacy & Research Manager, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on: advocacy@defenddefenders.org or +256 789 650996/ +44 7944 252 894

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