Human communication

Human rights groups slam Somalia for detaining journalist, call for release

By ABDULKADIR KHALIF

The Somali government has come under scrutiny after a veteran journalist was arrested following a new policy banning reporting on al-Shabaab propaganda statements.

Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, general secretary of the Syndicate of Somali Journalists (SJS), was arrested on Tuesday in Mogadishu as he was about to board a flight to Nairobi on a business trip.

Amnesty International says the journalist’s detention is unlawful.

Mumin’s detention was seen as linked to opposition to a government directive to ban al-Shabaab media.

Amnesty’s director for eastern and southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, said the detention violates freedom of expression.

“Detaining a prominent human rights and press freedom defender under the guise of national security sends a chilling message to journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who dares to speak out against the Somali government.

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“While the Somali authorities may have legitimate security concerns, the ban on spreading ‘extremist ideology’ is too broad, vague and leaves the door open to abuse by security and government officials. overzealous. This very restrictive directive risks leading to more arbitrary detentions and self-censorship by journalists fearing reprisals. This is a clear attack on the right to freedom of expression that must be urgently reversed. »

Media directive

Earlier this week, the Somali government banned coverage of what it calls al-Shabaab propaganda or extremist ideology, preventing 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 television channel. This was shorter than a list the government had previously compiled of 40 websites.

The statement tasked communication service companies to participate in promoting security in Somalia.

“This order (to shut down sites used by terrorists) is based on Article 10 of the (provisional) constitution of Somalia which guarantees social stability and integrity,” the statement issued on October 6 said.

And Somalia’s information ministry issued a directive that “dissemination of extremism ideology messages from both mainstream and social media broadcasts is prohibited.”

A group of media officials have expressed concern over the guidelines.

They included representatives of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), the Somali Media Brotherhood comprising the Somali Mechanism for the Safety of Journalists (SMSJ), the Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ) and the Somali Media Association (SOMA) .

Mumin, co-founder of SJS, was one of the press freedom advocates and speakers who addressed the media last Monday.

Mumin was later arrested by the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) at Adan Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu on Tuesday.

Call for release

As news of Mumin’s arrest spread, local media and international agencies expressed concern about journalists’ safety and freedoms.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released 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 freely and independently. His arrest is an unacceptable assault and no doubt sends a wave of fear through the Somali media community,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo.

“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, and instead work to create an environment in which Somali journalists can work without fear.

According to the media, just before his arrest, Mumin had reported that intelligence officials had attempted to force their way into the SJS office in Mogadishu on Monday evening.

Shabaab Warning

Somali journalists are often caught in the act between the government and Al-Shabaab.

After the government’s recent media blackout order, al-Shabaab warned the media against siding with the government.

A bayan (a statement) released by the al-Qaeda-linked militant group said: “We hereby notify all media houses [operating] inside Somalia joining the war against Islamic Shariah [Islamic laws].”

“Any media that intentionally sides with the (Somali) government will be considered part of the aggression [against us – Al-Shabaab]he added, insisting that journalists do their job in a neutral way.

“You are trustees and must perform your duties fairly.”

The Ministry of Communication and Technology stressed that its media ban order was in line with the provisions of the National Communication Act 2017.

Challenging work environment

In 2015, NISA Director General Abdirahman Mohamud Turyare ordered the media to refer to Al-Shabaab by an abbreviation UGUS (Ururka Gumaadka Ummada Soomaaliyeed)which translates to “the organization that exists for the annihilation of the Somali nation”.

A few days later, Al-Shabaab sent a message telling journalists to call the government using a similar abbreviation but with a different meaning: UGUS (Ururka Gumaynta Ummada Soomaaliyeed)which translates to “the organization that exists for the subjugation of the Somali nation”.

That two opposing camps have used the Somali terms, Goumaadka and Gumayntai.e. annihilation and enslavement, caused concern in 2015.

Similar orders from the government and the jihadist group have put journalists in a difficult position.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. 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.