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Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 24.01.2019 at 08:19


*Please note that updates on the Somalia page also cover developments in Somaliland*

The long-running conflict involving armed group Al-Shabaab and the Somali government, in addition to smaller conflicts with warlords over access to resources, continues to have a damaging effect on citizen’s basic freedoms,...

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Former Al-Shabab Commander barred from elections, supporters clash with police

Former Al-Shabab Commander barred from elections, supporters clash with police


As previously reported on the Monitor, Mukhtar Robow, defected founder and commander of militant Islamist group Al-Shabab, was barred from running for public office in October 2018. Despite the federal government’s intention to bar Robow from elections in the South West State, the electoral commission later granted him the permission he needed.

Despite this, on 13th December 2018, Robow was arrested and detained. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the arrest was made by Ethiopian security forces working with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), in Baidoa and later transported to Mogadishu. The arrest was based on suspicions that the former militant was involved in the smuggling of Islamic militants and weapons into Baidoa.

Subsequently, on 19th December 2018, law makers in the South West State elected a new president. Mukhtar Robows’ name was excluded from the ballot, despite protests in Baidoa. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 13th December 2018, Mukhtar Robow’s arrest (reported above in Association section) sparked protests in Baidoa, the South West State’s administrative headquarters, where at least 11 people including civilians and soldiers were killed. Photos of the protests showed burnt tires and stones scattered on the roads. At least 200 civilians were arrested following the protests.

Separately, on 11th December 2018, security forces opened fire on peaceful protesters in Baidoa, who were demonstrating in support of the Lower House Speaker Mohamed Mursal who hails from the region, and who has been under immense pressure to stop the impeachment motion against president Mohamed Abdullahi. Mursal has however stood his grounds despite the pressure. Two demonstrators were seriously injured while police officers seized cameras of journalists covering the demonstrations. 


On 4th December 2018, Ismael Sheikh Khalifa, journalist and chairman of Human Rights Journalists, a rights based NGO in Somalia, suffered serious injuries after an explosive device which was planted in his vehicle exploded at Maka Murramah road in Mogadishu's Waberi district. Security forces arrived at the scene to investigate the location from where the device was planted to the car. The reason for the attack remains unclear. 

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) said:

"AFEX is seriously concerned about the deteriorating safety of journalists’ situation in Somalia….The use of explosives to target journalists in Somalia is not new…..AFEX calls on the government of Somalia to ensure that attacks against journalists are investigated to a logical conclusion and perpetrators severely punished".

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, violence against journalists in Somalia remains high, with Somalia topping the Committee to Protect Journalist's 2018 Global Impunity Index for the fourth time in a row in 2018.


There is limited space for CSOs to operate due to the armed conflict in many parts of the country, though associational rights are technically guaranteed in the provisional Constitution.

There is limited space for CSOs to operate due to the armed conflict in many parts of the country, though associational rights are technically guaranteed in Article 16 of the provisional Constitution of 2012. Operating without adequate oversight, the national intelligence agency routinely arrests and detains human rights activists, often with no formal charges pressed against them. Many Somali CSOs now operate from Kenya because of numerous incidents of attacks, abductions and killings of CSO employees.

Authorities also use the 1962 Penal code to harass human rights defenders, bringing charges against which include “instigation to disobey the laws and “publication or circulation of false, exaggerated and tendentious news capable of disturbing public order” among others.

Somalia also remains a dangerous place for international and domestic organisations working to address the country's serious humanitarian issues. Aid workers are constantly under threat, especially when carrying out fieldwork and in the southern parts of Somalia where the armed group Al-Shabaab dominates.

Peaceful Assembly

The authorities rarely respect the freedom to assemble peacefully.

The authorities rarely respect the freedom to assemble peacefully even though this right is enshrined in Article 20 of Somalia’s constitution. Protesters have been killed or injured by security forces using live ammunition to disperse them. Further the authorities regularly denies requests to gather, even if those meetings are small scale and held indoors. The state also has been reported to intimidate and threaten leaders of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions and the National Union of Somali Journalists.


Attacks on journalists continue in Somalia, although the provisional Constitution protects free speech.

Attacks on journalists continue in Somalia, although the provisional Constitution protects free speech. The Al-Shabaab armed group prohibits journalists from operating in areas under its control and continues to detain, threaten and harass media workers throughout the country.

Journalist have been arbitrary arrested in response to their investigative and critical reporting of the government or just questioning government officials. They have also faced violence and threats from government and non-state actors including kidnappings and attacks, including from Al-Shabaab.

Killings of journalists largely go uninvestigated and arrests and prosecutions are rare. A new repressive media law passed in July 2017 contains vaguely-worded provisions, broad restrictions on journalists and gives powers to the authorities to prosecute media workers