UN urges Somalia to ensure peaceful elections and guarantee freedom of expression

In a report presented during the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Bahame Tom Nyanduga, highlighted positive developments in the country, including forward motion on the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission, and ending the practice of public executions in Mogadishu. However, the report also raised significant challenges, including the continued crackdown on free expression and independent media, some of which have been previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor. The report particularly highlights reported cases of alleged arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, harassment and intimidation of journalists by security agents. The report also raises concerns on the proposed media law which may fall below international standards, as amendments proposed by journalists were not included when it was tabled in parliament.

On 13th August 2018, the Somali National Army instructed troops to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, which emphasises civilians protection during an armed conflict, when conducting military operations in the country. In a separate but nearly related report published on 13th August, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the UN human rights office (OHCHR) urged Somalia to ensure that future elections are not marred by the human rights violations committed during the 2016-2017 parliamentary and presidential elections. The report outlines abuses by State security forces and non-state actors like Al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group, in the previous electoral period, including the killing of 44 clan leaders and electoral delegates, most of which were not properly investigated. It also recommends that future candidates for office be vetted with regard to their human rights records.

Expression

As conditions for journalists remain grave in the country, on 26th July, journalist and cameraman for the privately-owned Somali Broadcasting Services, Abdirisaq Qasim Iman, was shot dead by a soldier at a traffic stop in Mogadishu. According to witnesses, within moments of arriving at the checkpoint, an argument between the two led the soldier in question to fire two rounds at Abdirisaq’s head. The soldier fled the scene after the shooting.

Committee to Protect Journalists Africa program Coordinator Angela Quintal from Harare said:

"Somali authorities must act swiftly to investigate the killing of Abdirizak Kasim Iman, determine the motive, and bring those responsible to justice ..dozens of unsolved killings of journalists are a grave reminder of the dangers facing the press in Somalia. The police should be working to ensure the media are able to do their job without fear, not adding to the dangers they face."

In positive developments, on 8th July 2018 an appeal court in Hargesia overturned a ban on popular newspaper - Haatuf. Haatuf and its sister publication, Somaliland Times, were suspended in 2014 on allegations of publishing false news as their editor-in-chief Ahmed Ali Egeh and owner Yusuf Abdi Gabobe were both given three-year prison terms and hefty fines. Haatuf has filed a civil suit against the government at the regional court in Hargesia seeking compensation for the closure.

A month earlier, in June 2018 as previously reported on the Monitor, another popular local newspaper – Waaberi newspaper, had also been shut down after its owners were found guilty of improper registration by a regional court in Hargesia. However, this decision was quashed in July by an appeal court.

According to a report released on 6th September 2018 by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, between August 2016 and July 2018, eight journalists and media workers were killed and 32 injured, while 94 journalists and other media workers were arbitrarily arrested and/or subjected to prolonged detention. The report identified non-state actors like Al-Shabaab as the main perpetrator of attacks against journalists and other media workers.