MOGADISHU, Somalia 3 May 2024 –  On World Press Freedom Day 2024, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) reiterates its call for the protection of journalists and press freedom in the country amidst increased threats and intimidation aimed at suppressing journalists and impeding critical reporting. These tactics seek to hinder media organizations from conducting their vital work, undermining the cornerstone of democracy and accountability.

On this World Press Freedom Day, we reflect on the challenges faced by journalists across Somalia in their pursuit of truth and transparency. From 1 January to 30 April 2024, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) has painstakingly documented a series of distressing incidents across regions, revealing the alarming threats to press freedom in Somalia.

In Mogadishu, Gedo, Puntland, Somaliland, and Galmudug, ten journalists have been arbitrarily detained, stifling their voices and obstructing their vital work in informing the public. Tragically, one journalist lost Abdikarin Ahmed Bulhan was shot dead incident in central Somalia, while another suffered injuries in a bombing in Mogadishu, highlighting the grave risks journalists face in conflict zones.

Furthermore, the targeting of five lawyers defending journalists in Somaliland with threats of prosecution and license revocation underscores the broader assault on freedom of expression and the rule of law. Shockingly, two journalists from Somali Cable TV were denied access to the Somali Federal Parliament in Mogadishu, curtailing their ability to report on matters of public interest.

Adding to these egregious violations, the Somali Journalists Syndicate itself has been subjected to harassment and intimidation, with its bank accounts frozen and baseless criminal charges, including defamation, leveled against its leadership by the Somali attorney general’s office.

“Press freedom teeters on the edge of peril, as journalists face relentless threats, arbitrary detentions, and violent attacks throughout Somalia and Somaliland. As we mark World Press Freedom Day today, we also express our concern about the fact that the pursuit of truth has become a perilous endeavor for media workers, with censorship lurking at every corner,” said SJS Secretary-General, Abdalle Mumin “These incidents serve as a stark reminder of the crucial role a free press plays in upholding democracy and accountability.”

“We urge all stakeholders to stand united in protecting journalists and ending the culture of impunity that threatens their lives and freedoms. The spate of arbitrary detentions, violent attacks, and legal harassment against journalists in Somalia and Somaliland is not just an assault on the media; it’s an affront to democracy itself. Let us demand accountability for these injustices and work tirelessly to safeguard the rights of those who courageously seek to uncover the truth,” Mumin added.

SJS documentation from 1 January – 30 April, 2024:

On January 6, 2024, Somaliland police conducted a raid on the MM Somali TV studio, a privately-owned station, in Hargeisa, Somaliland, during a discussion on the Somaliland-Ethiopia Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The police violently detained MM Somali TV founder Mohamed Abdi Ilig, reporter Mohamed Abdi Abdullahi (known as Andar), and cameraman Ilyaas Abdinasir. Although reporter Mohamed Abdi Abdullahi (Andar) and cameraman Ilyaas Abdinasir were released on the afternoon of January 9 without charges, the station’s founder Mohamed Abdi Ilig remains in detention without any charges brought against him.   MM Somali TV founder Mohamed Abdi Ilig gained his freedom on after enduring 43 days of imprisonment, initially held in a detention facility operated by Somaliland national intelligence before being transferred to police custody.

On January 7, 2024, Armed Somali police officers executing eviction orders from the Banadir Regional Court chairman, Salah Ali Mohamud, targeted RTN TV reporter Abdihafid Nor Barre and cameraman Abdukadir Abukar Ali in Waberi district, Mogadishu. The television crew was covering the eviction incident, conducting interviews with family members residing in the affected property. The interviewed family members asserted that the eviction was unlawful and implicated senior court officials in the case. The journalists were forced to flee to safety after an armed police officer pointed a gun at them while the reporter was recording a piece-to-camera clip. The station’s editor told SJS that Abdihafid and Abdukadir left the site unharmed.

On January 20, 2024, in the midst of a human rights-focused training session for SJS women journalists, three Somali national intelligence (NISA) officers, led by Mohamed Fooxle and Hassan Dahir from the surveillance unit, unexpectedly arrived at Hotel Sahafi in Mogadishu where the training was held. Engaging in disruptive behavior, they harassed hotel staff, trainers, and participants, insisting on obtaining the list of participants, training content, and other related documents. Despite efforts by SJS and hotel management to explain the nature of the training, while emphasizing the need to protect the privacy of participants. The NISA officers ordered an abrupt halt to the day’s session, concluding it an hour earlier than scheduled.

On January 22, 2024, NISA and police officers denied access Somali Cable TV journalists who were trying to cover the parliament’s Lower House proceedings of the day.  The journalists told SJS that the reason was linked to a video clip aired on Saturday, showing a Member of Parliament spraying water on parliament officials during the opening of the parliamentary session discussing constitutional affairs.

On February 15, 2024, Police in the town of Cadaado in Galmudug briefly detained Sharma’arke Mohamed, founder and journalist of the local private Radio Cadaado. His detention followed a Facebook post where he advocated[1] for justice for two businessmen who were recently shot dead in Dhusamareb town. Sharma’arke was released a few hours after his arrest, thanks to the intervention of local authorities.

On February 18, 2024, Puntland security forces obstructed and briefly detained Freelance journalist Jamal Muhumed Osman and his female producer, who work for UK’s Channel 4 News in Garowe, Puntland State. Despite being accredited and assured of their security, Jamal and his producer arrived in Garowe to work on interviews for their documentary program on the Red Sea crisis. However, they were stopped at the Garowe Airport and subsequently held in custody in the city before being released later that evening. Their journalistic assignment was impeded when they were forcibly flown back to Ethiopia on Monday 19 February, preventing them from fulfilling their journalistic duties This marks the second instance of journalist Jamal facing restrictions in the country, with a previous incident occurring in December 2022 at the Mogadishu airport.

On March 13, 2024, Journalist Sugaal Moalim Mohamud, who is employed by the Somalia government-owned media outlets of Radio Mogadishu and SNTV was suspended and his salary cut in retaliation for expressing views regarding the Somali government’s military operations, particularly highlighting issues of mismanagement and corruption within the Ministry of Defense. The Director General of the Ministry of Information, Abdullahi Hayir Duale, issued a letter titled ‘Decision Making on Labour Complaint,’ wherein he authorized the suspension of journalist Sugaal Moalim Mohamud, a reporter at Radio Mogadishu and Somali National TV (SNTV) from his duties for a period of one month, along with a corresponding cut in his monthly pay. Additionally, Sugaal was prohibited from accessing the Ministry of Information building for the same duration. The letter was formally communicated to the National Civil Service Commission. “Sugaal has been accused of publishing a comment against the Somali Government on his private Facebook knowing the rules and regulations of the state media,” Director Duale said in his letter. Despite the one month period ended, the journalist is still suspended and his salary stopped as of 30 April 2024.

On March 14, 2024, Prominent journalist Abdikarin Ahmed Bulhan was murdered in the own of Abudwak, in the central Somalia region of Galgaduud. Abdikarin, a correspondent for the state-owned Somali National TV (SNTV) and Somali National News Agency (SONNA), sustained two bullet injuries on March 13, 2024, according to family members and eyewitnesses. One bullet penetrated from the right side of his jaw to the left, while another struck his right leg. He later succumbled to his injuries leaving behind wife and five children.  The suspected killer, Abdihakin Ahmed Egal was arrested and arraigned in the Galgaduud Regional Court on March 26 where he was sentenced with death penalty. On March 28, a firing squad executed Abdihakin Ahmed Egal in a public place in Abudwak town of Galgaduud region.

On March 14, 2024, The Office of Somali Prime Minister made unlawful announcement by unilaterally appointing nine individuals for the Somali Press Council. In the prime minister’s statement, the appointment was made through the suggestion of from the ministry of information. However, the members appointed are government officials and employees – some affiliated with the National Intelligence (NISA) and Ministry of Information, and on this regard, SJS joined other media groups in denouncing this move and calling for an immediate withdrawal of the unconstitutional appointment. While we strongly advocate for the independence of the Somali Press Council and believe its formation should only occur through consensus among all stakeholders and the body should serve as a regulatory council that not upholds freedom of the media.

On March 16, 2024, Colonel Yusuf Farah Sharma’arke, the Somaliland military court prosecutor approved to the attorney general to bring criminal charges against five independent lawyers in Somaliland and their licenses might be revoked as a retaliation to a recent case they filed challenging the Somaliland National Intelligence Agency (NIA). According to documents, the Director-General of the NIA, Mustafa Hassan, has asked the Office of the Attorney General of the Somaliland Armed Forces to press criminal charges against the five lawyers. The lawyers facing prosecution are Mubarik Mohamud Abdi, Mohamed Hussein Arale, Mohamud Abdirahman Nur, Mukhtar Dahir Jibril, and Hussein Shabeel Abdillahi. On March 9, the five lawyers, who are part of the Somaliland Lawyers Association, submitted a legal recommendation indicating that the NIA and the military court do not have the power or legality to detain and investigate civilians, including journalists. The lawyers referred to the raid and arbitrary detention of MM Somali TV journalists that took place in early February in Hargeisa, among several other cases. They suggested that the intelligence agency cease detaining civilians, including journalists and others with dissenting voices.

On April 1, 2024, Somali security forces in the town of Luuq in Gedo region arrested radio Ergo journalist Mohamud Abdirashid, following a social media post that exposed the alleged injury of two local men who are tuk tuk drivers and shot by local police over unpaid ‘fees’ demanded by the police. Mohamud freelances for the Nairobi-based humanitarian Radio Ergo, whose radio reported that the journalist was transferred to the custody of the Ethiopian forces in the region. According to colleagues interviewed by SJS and voice messages we reviewed, Mohamud had been threatened with severe punishment after his post on Facebook, which he later deleted. Upon arrest on 1 April by the local police in Luuq,he was handed over to the Ethiopian forces in the town Radio Ergo also reported that the journalist was transferred to the custody of the Ethiopian forces in the region. He was freed on April 8, 2024 and was not charged.

On April 9, 2024, Somalia authorities froze the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) bank accounts, in what the union perceived as acts of sabotage against the union’s press freedom activities across Somalia. In an email notification from the Premier Bank indicated that SJS bank accounts were “frozen” following a letter issued by the Banadir Regional Court ordering “the freeze of SJS bank accounts” and “investigation into our financial transactions”.  Then two other banks: Dahabshiil Bank International and the IBS Bank Somalia also froze SJS accounts[1]. Despite seeking clarification, both written and oral, no response was provided. On Sunday, SJS lawyers visited the court to seek further information, but once again, no explanation was given. The move which is still ongoing is having severe impact on SJS operations and stalled planned activities as the organization is unable to access funds in its accounts[2].  SJS were blocked from going to the court to seek injection up to three times after the court staff said they were not working or simply the judges were not on duty, a clear indication that the measures are more about intimidation meant to hinder SJS vital work.

On April 15, 2024, the Office of Somalia Attorney General published a press statement announcing three criminal charges against SJS and its leadership. The three charges – Art. 372. (False Certification by a Private Individual); Art. 378. (Use of False Document); Art. 452. (Defamation). The statement added that the attorney general’s office is conducting investigation and once it completes, the case will be submitted to the court. As of today, neither the attorney general’s office, nor the court communicated to SJS notifying such charges. In the meantime, while SJS saw the charges on the social media, the official charge sheet was not delivered to SJS office or its lawyers as required by law. SJS has been in the past targeted by the same offices and the ministry of information officials and therefore regards these new developments and the suspension of its bank accounts as intimidation tactic to hinder its vital press freedom work.

On April 16, 2024, Journalist and SYL TV founder, Hussein Abdulle Mohamed gone missing late on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, after being summoned for a meeting with the director of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) in Mogadishu. According to the journalist and other sources, Hussein was taken from a hotel near the NISA headquarters at around 4:00 PM on Tuesday. Following a meeting that lasted only 8 minutes inside the NISA headquarters at the Habar Khadijo building in Mogadishu’s Shibis District, he was transferred to the notorious Godka Jilacow facility, where he was held overnight. He was released late on Wednesday April 17, 2024.“Thanks God. I got my freedom after 24 hours of kidnapping,” Hussein wrote on his Facebook page upon his freedom. Hussein has published several reports exposing NISA, including one detailing expected sackings within the agency and another revealing an abandoned borehole on the city outskirts allegedly used by security forces to dump of the bodies of assassination victims. Some of these reports have been deleted from SYLT TV platforms and Hussein’s Facebook page.

On April 24, 2024, Somaliland police in Hargeisa detained Horn Cable TV reporter Shueyb Hassan Dheere and cameraman Mustafe Xayd working for Sky TV in Hargeisa. The pair were collecting vox-pops from local population affected by enforced eviction of residents from a public land located in the 26th June district, Hargeisa, Somaliland. The two journalists were held the day in the Daloodha police station before they were freed overnight without charges.