Freedom of expression in Somalia: Still not a given

6 Sep 2018

Freedom of expression in Somalia: Still not a given




UN report finds despite some advances, lack of legislation hampering progress

Mogadishu – Somalia has made progress in ensuring the right to freedom of expression but needs to do more to end the challenges that remain – including killings, beatings, harassment, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, lack of due process or fair trial and the closure of media outlets – according to United Nations report published today. It provides an update on a broader human rights report carried out by UNSOM in 2016.

“Despite some efforts and progress in the legislative field, regrettably violations and abuses concerning the right to freedom of expression continued to be recorded,” the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, said at the report’s launch in the Somali capital.

Entitled ‘The Precarious Enjoyment of Freedom of Expression in Somalia,’ the report by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which Mr. Keating heads, covers the period from 1 August 2016 to 31 July 2018.

The new report notes that following advocacy of journalists and civil society, the Federal Government opened the national media law for revision to address journalists and other media workers’ concerns. It also notes that in response to advocacy efforts, the northern state of Puntland amended its media law with changes that broaden the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, while the southern state of Jubbaland has initiated a media law. 

According to the report, during the period under review, eight journalists and media workers were killed and 32 injured, and 94 journalists and other media workers were arbitrarily arrested and/or subjected to prolonged detention on charges related to the exercise of freedom of expression. Al-Shabaab remained the main perpetrator of killings and injuries against journalists and other media workers.

Moreover, during the same time period, 19 media outlets (seven TV stations, five radio stations, five websites and two newspapers) were either closed by federal or member state authorities, suspended or blocked for broadcasting news, or alleged affiliation with Al-Shabaab, or dissemination of ‘false news’ considered to be endangering national security.

“Somalis cherish freedom of expression. It is an essential part of their culture. It is vital for all Somali citizens to be free to express their opinions, especially as the country prepares for the 2020-2021elections,” Special Representative Keating said. “For freedom of expression to become a reality, Somalia must guarantee independence of the media, bring media legislation in line with the provisional Federal Constitution and regional and international human rights standards, and repeal laws criminalizing the dissemination of ‘false news’.” 

The report also notes that, while the number of journalists and other media workers killed decreased by 27 per cent compared to January 2014-August 2016, the number of people arrested and detained on charges related to the exercise of freedom of expression increased by 70 per cent. These included people who participated in demonstrations, politicians, supporters of political parties, bloggers and human rights defenders, poets, civil society activists, elders and citizens demonstrating in favour of Somali unity. The report attributes this spike in violations, which particularly impacted Somalilanders, to the November 2017 presidential elections, expressions of support for Somali unity, and the Tukaraq conflict between “Somaliland” and Puntland in May 2018.

The report’s recommendations include the swift implementation of measures to protect journalists and other media workers, the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of violations against media workers and political actors, and the establishment of the Somali Federal Human Rights Commission.