The Mistreatments and Killing of Journalists in Somalia Must Stop

by Michael “Micke” Godtfredsen

Chair, IFAJ Freedom of the Press Committee


On the night of June 23 this year, four unidentified men attacked our Somalian colleague Hanad Ali Guled, chief editor of the privately owned Goobjoog Television. This is reported by Goobjoog and confirmed by a statement from the Somali Journalists Syndicate, a local press rights group, and Hanad himself, who has been in contact with the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ.

Hanad is active as a press freedom advocate and a member of Somali Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture, SOMESHA, which is representing Somalia as a member of IFAJ.

He was near his home in Mogadishu’s Wadajir district when the men confronted him, threatened to kill him and kicked him all over his body, he later told CPJ. Two of the attackers wounded his left arm and the back of his neck with knives. The group fled when Hanad screamed in pain.

Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, secretary-general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate, told CPJ that he reported the attack on Hanad to the police by June 24.

However, no arrests had been made as of July 9.

Hanad was treated at the local Kalkal Hospital for wounds on his neck and arm and was discharged the following morning. He returned to the hospital for follow-up appointments as of July 7, and still had pain in his left arm.


Unknown motive, but…

Hanad and Abdalle Ahmed Mumin both told CPJ via messaging app that they did not know the motive for the attack or the identities of the assailants. Both said, they feared that the attack was a reprisal for Hanad’s work with Goobjoog or the syndicate, where he works as the training secretary, in charge of coordinating safety and labour rights workshops and training for journalists.

Goobjoog Television covers general regional, national, and international news. In the week before the attack, the station had covered recent elections in the breakaway region of Somaliland and upcoming federal elections. Hanad occasionally conducts interviews and anchors the show’s news round-up-program.

Hanad said that the attackers did not signal anything else than the threats to kill him, and neither did they reference his work as a journalist. He lost two cell phones in the attack but was unsure if the men stole them or if he dropped them during the scuffle.


Far from the first time

According to CPJ and several other sources, the mistreatment of Hanad in June is far from the first time a journalist has been a victim of abuse or threats in Somalia during the latest decades.

Hanad himself was abducted once earlier, in April 2017, when unidentified gunmen held him overnight until he escaped. This attack was believed to be a retaliation for his work at Goobjoog.

In this context it is also worth mentioning that the president of SOMESHA, Daud Abdi Daud, at the moment is living in exile in Kampala, Uganda after multiple threats from extremists and government forces in his home country.

Unfortunately, there are lots of other examples.

You can read about some of them on the CPJ website about the difficult circumstances for Somalian journalists:

Somalia is known as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, where people who kill them succeed in escaping justice.

It happens very often that the police or the authorities do not investigate the cases. When the victims for instance try to check with the police forces on how their cases are progressing, they will often be without any answer.


Freedom of speech is undermined

According to Reporters Without Borders, the situation for journalists in the country is very dangerous‚ the most dangerous in Africa.

Political violence and corruption undermine the freedom to inform in Somalia, the organisation says on its website. The pressure on journalists can come from many quarters, especially as much of the country is controlled by non-state entities or by autonomous regional governments which do not recognise the central government’s authority.

“Journalists who refuse to censor themselves are for instance liable to be the targets of bombings or shootings by Al-Shabaab militants – the leading killers of media personnel – or exposed to arbitrary detention (of which 2020 saw 32 cases), to torture or to the closure of their media by the authorities,” says Reporters Without Borders. “The governments in the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland are particularly authoritarian and put a great deal of pressure on the local media. Journalists are often brought before military courts in an attempt to justify prolonged detention, or before courts that apply laws dating back to the military dictatorship.”


No guarantee for press freedom under the central government either

Even in the capital region controlled by the central government of the country, you will find obvious lacks in guaranteeing freedom of expression.

In 2020 Somalia had a new media law. It was said to be a kind of relief compared to a severe and controversial law from 2016. Indeed, there are some improvements in the new law. It does contain major advances that will help to guarantee freedom of expression and opinion, as enshrined in the 2012 Federal Provisional Constitution. It is also said to provide for public service broadcasting and thereby helping to promote editorial independence and public accountability.

But there are even a lot of excessively strict provisions in the new law that, for instance, gives the information minister the extraordinary power to control all news production.

Neither is the law accompanied even by a moratorium on arrests of journalists, which continue to take place.


Criminalization of journalistic activities

There are also major concerns about the new law’s criminalization of journalistic activities. Reporters Without Borders has, for instance, raised concerns with the Somali central government about vaguely worded laws against reporting that can be interpreted as “incitement to violence and clannism,” “false information,” “propaganda,” or  against the national interest—vague enough to leave journalists open to criminal charges if they report on disputed facts or subjects.

The organisation also noted that the new law fails to protect journalists’ confidential sources. There is a risk that journalists themselves could be held responsible for the consequences of disclosing confidential information.

Furthermore, the new law makes it possible that journalists can be punished with fines for violations without even limiting the size of the fines. And it says that verdicts and sentences can be appealed before unspecified “competent jurisdictions,” which means the same as opening the way to prison sentences.

In a joint statement, the organisations Amnesty International, CPJ and Human Rights Watch have noted the same problems.

Efforts have nevertheless been made to combat impunity in recent years. A policeman who shot a cameraman at a checkpoint in Mogadishu in July 2018 was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison, even though he has not yet been arrested. Two soldiers were discharged from the army for tying up two journalists and leaving them in the sun. And, in response to a request from the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), a court ordered the attorney general’s office to investigate the more than 50 murders of journalists that remain unpunished.

It is obvious that both the federal government and the authorities in the regions have to take responsibility for guaranteeing the journalists of Somalia the possibility to do their job securely and independently. This shall also be the case for journalists specialized in agriculture. Our job is to inform about the situation for food sufficiency, and we have to be able to do that under independent conditions.

Somalia is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index 

This text is based on reports, press releases and statements mainly from CPJ, Somali Journalists Syndicate, NUSOJ and Reporters Without Borders.