European Parliament raps Somalia over press freedom, rights violations

Journalist Abdiaziz Guled, aka Afrika, who was killed in a targeted suicide bombing in Mogadishu. The European Parliament now describes Somalia’s media environment as restrictive and conducive for rogue elements to harass journalists

By Daily Nation

The European Parliament on Thursday raised the alarm over Somalia’s legal environment for the media, describing it as restrictive and conducive for rogue elements to harass journalists.

In a joint resolution focused on Somalia’s human rights, press freedom and humanitarian situation, the Parliament endorsed a decision that will see the bloc formally ask Somalia to repeal its media law and stop detaining journalists without trial.

It cited the role of the media in ensuring a free and fair election, but said Somalia “severely restricted” media operators, with journalists and human rights activists threatened, detained or denied due process in courts.

The key concern for the EU body is the controversial media law passed last year ostensibly to amend a worse version of 2016. The new one introduced things like public service broadcasting.

But it added new problems such as specialised prosecutors for journalists who may act on vague claims, restrictions on who can work as a journalist as well as giving the government a free hand to decide who sits on the regulatory body, the Media Council.

The International Federation of Journalists, at the time, accused the Federal Government of Somalia of refusing to incorporate suggestions from press lobbies. The European Parliament wants it revoked.

“The European Parliament calls on the Somali authorities to repeal the provisions of the 2020 amended media law which severely restricts freedom of the media and freedom of expression, and does not comply with international standards on freedom of expression,” it said on Thursday.

“(It) urges the Federal Government of Somalia and its Federal Member States to declare, without delay, a moratorium on the arrest and imprisonment of journalists while performing their journalistic duties, as proposed by Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Somali Journalists.”

The resolution comes as Somalia’s media and human rights lobbies say they are facing threats both from government operatives and the militant group Al-Shabaab.

On November 20, Somalia’s veteran journalist Abdiaziz Mohamud Guleid was murdered in a suicide bomb as he left a restaurant with his colleague. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility on the same day the group abducted a former member who had turned into a counter-terrorism crusader.

The resolution said it “deplores the recent attacks on journalists and media personnel who have a legitimate role to play in state building and the electoral process, and who should be able to conduct their work without fear or intimidation.”

Somalia’s press freedom lobby, NUSOJ, said the resolution was welcomed as it could add the needed pressure on authorities to protect journalists and activists.

“We are delighted to note that the resolution echoes our concerns relating to the curtailment of freedom of expression and the culture of attacking journalists for speaking truth to power”, said NUSOJ secretary-general Omar Faruk Osman.

“For us as journalists and rights advocates in this country, our resolve remains unshaken. We will boldly continue to stand in solidarity with fellow journalists and trade unionists in defence of human and labour rights,” Osman added.

The decision, which could form a key policy direction for the European Union on Somalia, was passed amid a looming humanitarian crisis caused by drought, but also when Somalia’s much-delayed elections have seen violence and human rights violations rise.

This year, at least three journalists, including Mr Guleid, often known as ‘Afrika’, and Jamal Farah, a freelance reporter, have been murdered by Al-Shabaab.

But state agencies were also fingered for troubling a free press. The State of Puntland, for example, was accused of intimidating journalists through arbitrary arrests.

Overall, the European Parliament said the authorities should end “abuses of human rights” including sexual and gender-based violence and ensure perpetrators are punished.