Somalia journalists cite 'dangerous law' as first hurdle

The Secretary General National Union of Somali Journalists (Nusoj) Mr Omar Faruk Osman.

The Secretary General National Union of Somali Journalists (Nusoj) Mr Omar Faruk Osman.

Photo credit: Courtesy | NUSOJ

Somali journalists have said the country’s penal code and media law form part of the ‘dangerous laws’ that have created the greatest threat to their safety. They called for urgent amendments to improve welfare of media practitioners in the country.

They say these laws have caused infringement on freedoms of the media, dragging Mogadishu’s progress in the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A report by the National Union of Somali Journalists (Nusoj), a local lobby for press freedom, released Wednesday, says the state consistently misapplies the law to harass and intimidate journalists, a situation which has seriously suppressed press freedom in the country.

The report came as Somalia presented, for the first time ever, its Voluntary National Review (VNR) of the implementation of the SDGs at the UN High Level Political Forum in New York this week.

The SDS are a list of 17 common, but variable, goals agreed to by the UN member states to achieve targets such as civil liberties, eradicate extreme poverty, end violence and promote equality across the world. Press freedom forms part of civil liberties seen as crucial for growing democracies and economic development.

Somalia, the report says, is particularly doing poorly on the 16th goal, which, in part, seeks to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

According to the report, eight in every ten journalists in Somalia have experienced some form of intimidation, threat or abuse inflicted by state actors.

The violation of the fundamental rights of journalists in the country has resulted in the death of 23 journalists since 2015 and several others have sustained injuries in the line of duty, the report says.

“Both the Federal and regional governments are equally guilty of gross violations of human rights, especially media freedom and freedom of expression which makes the commitments in SDG16 difficult to be realized,” it reads.

Among the other issues that the journalists cited as a threat to their safety are poor investigations and prosecution of perpetuators of crime against media practitioners; a weak judicial system impaired by low capacity; and the lack of backing from the citizenry.

The journalists also lamented the difficulty to access information held by the government, which is a fundamental right as prescribed under the country’s provisional constitution.

Further, 80 percent of the journalists in the country have reportedly experience surveillance of their online accounts, 13 percent have had their phones tapped, while seven percent have had their websites hacked.

The digital security threats are all aimed at undermining access to information and suppressing “websites, social media platforms and other communication channels that air alternative thoughts and dissenting voices,” the report suggests.

The journalists’ lobby group is, therefore, calling on the state to halt all threats and attacks against journalists and media organizations and guarantee their physical and legal safety as it proceeds in the journey towards the realisation of the SDGs.

“We are in a decade that is inspiring us to think and dream big. With a mere seven years to accomplish the SDGs, we must think strategically and innovatively, and our interventions must be developed from sound evidence and information,” said Omar Faruk Osman, Nusoj Secretary-General. 

The report was produced with funding from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under its International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC). UNESCO is funding NUSOJ under a program called localising SDG16 to promote safety of journalists and access to information.

Mr Sharmarke Mohamed Farah, Director General of the Somalia National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) who spoke on behalf of Somalia and presented Somalia’s Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, pledged Somalia's commitment to achieving the goal.