Journalist arrested, protesters denounce remarks by French president

General situation

Somalia is preparing for upcoming general elections, which are set to take place in February 2021. In October 2020, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) announced the electoral model that will be used in the elections. While there have been some lamentations that the model is merely a replication of the one used in 2016, with some minor changes, the announcement has been seen as a positive step forward to stability. The new model increases the number of delegates who will elect each member of parliament. The members of parliament in turn vote for the president.

Intercommunal fighting and clashes unfortunately continue in Somalia. In September 2020, dozens of people died during clashes between villagers and al-Shabab fighters in central Somalia. Civilians were reportedly defending livestock and land from the armed extremist group, which has control over large parts of south and central Somalia.

In separate developments, on 26th October 2020, the government of Somaliland announced that they would be suspending all cooperation with the UN and respective UN agencies until further notice. No reason has been given thus far, however Somalia and Somaliland have, in the past, held differing opinions on the management of aid and humanitarian money.

Peaceful Assembly

On 25th September 2020, residents in the towns of El Waq and Beled Hawo in the Gedo region, which lie on the Somalia-Kenya border, held demonstrations to protest the presence of Kenyan forces in the town. The protests continued for three consecutive days as armed protesters marched to the regional headquarters on 27th September to express their readiness to fight the Kenyan forces.

The protests followed accusations that they had recently abducted a number of civilians in the area.

Separately, on 27th and 28th October 2020, hundreds of people marched through Mogadishu, Somalia and Burao, Somaliland to protest recent remarks by President Emmanuel Macron of France, concerning his plans to continue publishing cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed. Demonstrators called for a boycott of French products and condemned the President’s actions as Islamophobic.

Expression

In a positive development, the Somali Arts Foundation officially opened in September 2020. The space is the first contemporary arts institution in Somalia and offers many Somali artists a much-needed exhibition space.

However, concerns continue to be raised about the effects of the new Media Law, which was signed in August 2020 and previously reported on the Monitor. The new law gives significant oversight power to the Minister of Information, which may have a restrictive effect on journalists and the media. The concerns are particularly pertinent in the run up to the 2021 elections,where maintaining a healthy and open media, as well as open civic and political space is key for democracy.

On 17th October 2020, Radio Kulmiye journalist Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow was arrested at his home in Mogadishu in the middle of the night by National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) officers. He was reportedly arrested in relation to an interview he had done with a businessman who allegedly supports al-Shabab and who criticised the Somali authorities. Addow was held for five days in an unknown location before being released on 22nd October.

Denouncing the incident, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the secretary general of Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said:

“It is outrageous to hear that Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow’s house was raided and himself detained in an undisclosed location just for reporting a news story critical to the government. This is unacceptable. We call for his immediate and unconditional release… Journalists and their media houses should be allowed to freely report on crucial news stories without fear of arrest or harassment even if they are not favored by the authorities.”

Mohamed Abduwahab Abdullahi, the secretary general of the Somali Media Association (SOMA) added:

“The raid on Radio Kulmiye journalist Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow’s house is a serious attack on press freedom in Somalia. His detention in an undisclosed location is also an abduction… We call on authorities to stop harassing journalists and media houses deemed critical to the state.”