UN report urges Somalia to ensure freedom of expression as it is critical to political transition

4 September 2016 – A United Nations report on freedom of expression in Somalia released today describes progress in state-building in Somalia, but shows the very challenging environment that continues to confront journalists, human rights defenders and political leaders, including numerous killings, arrests, intimidation and closure of critical media outlets.

“The trend of arrest and detention of journalists and other media workers seems to indicate an intention to intimidate or harass journalists and media owners which inevitably leads to self-censorship or to media workers eventually leaving the profession,” says the reportproduced jointly by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Al-Shabaab has prohibited all media to operate in areas under its control but state actors are main perpetrators of violations against media workers and political activists, the report says

“Somalia has made great progress in recent years, after decades of conflict and violence,” said Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia and head of UNSOM, Michael Keating, in an OHCHR news release. “But Somalis continue to suffer multiple human rights deficits. They need and deserve accountable institutions.”

“Strong, independent and critical journalism is a vital element of any democratic State,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “Attacks against individual journalists and media organizations have a deeply corrosive impact on democracy, with profoundly negative repercussions on freedom of expression and human rights in general.”

The UN human rights chief urged the Somali authorities, both at the Federal and State levels, to take prompt action and ensure that all violations of the right to freedom of expression, including the various serious attacks perpetrated against media workers, are fully investigated, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrators.

The report says that 2016 represents a “critical juncture in Somalia’s political transition,” and highlights the encouraging progress towards more inclusive elections and accountable government since 2012, including the rebuilding of State institutions and the adoption of important new laws, including one on political parties and one on the creation of an independent National Human Rights Commission.

The report, however, states that freedom of expression, which plays a central role in the building of democratic States, especially in times of political transformation, remains significantly limited, documenting 120 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of media workers between January 2014 and July 2016.

Despite the “vibrant media culture” in Somalia – which hosts more than 90 media outlets and scores of websites and blogs – numerous violations aimed at journalists and political leaders are documented, including killings, attacks, arbitrary arrests and detention, intimidation, harassment, closure of media outlets, confiscation of equipment and blocking of websites.

30 journalists killed between August 2012 and June 2016

The dangers facing media workers and public figures are illustrated by the killing, between August 2012 and June 2016, of a total of 30 journalists and 18 parliamentarians in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab has prohibited all media to operate in areas under its control and has been targeting media workers across the country, the report says. But federal and state-level security forces, including the National Army, the Police and the National Intelligence and Security Agency, are main perpetrators of violations against media workers and political activists. Radio Shabelle has been particularly targeted, with five serious incidents between 2013 and 2015. The report states that the authorities have made very limited efforts to investigate and prosecute such violations.

The report stresses, among other things, the need to strengthen the justice system to better protect freedom of expression. Since January 2015, only ten of the 48 journalists and media workers who have been arrested have been brought before a court, it states.

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