MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and the Somali Media Association (SOMA) condemn the restrictions and blocking of independent media and journalists seeking to observe and report on the process of the indirect elections in Somalia; and express serious concern at the repression and threats against journalists dealing with allegations of irregularities, harassment of candidates and looting of seats in Mogadishu and in the federal Member States.
Journalists in Mogadishu, Hirshabelle, the South West, Jubbaland, Puntland and Galmudugu have faced systematic restrictions as they have been denied access to information related to the electoral process, monitoring of polling stations and also investigating profiles of candidates running for parliamentary positions.
Electoral authorities in Mogadishu and regional states have used security forces, including National Intelligence and Security Agency officers, federal and regional police officers, as well as election staff, to prevent journalists from covering the election campaigns of opposition candidates and allegations of delegate-buying and malpractices including phony contestants, barring access and right to contest of certain candidates.
In Jubbaland, intelligence officers attached to the office of president Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Madobe) summoned 13 journalists on 20 December and instructed to keep off any coverage related to election dispute and complaints. A senior Jubbaland intelligence officer called ‘Basaam’ had threatened journalists with harsh consequences should they report complaints about the results of election of the Lower House seats in the state. On 28 December, a group of journalists covering the election of Lower House seats in Kismayo’s Daawad hall were threatened with arrest and beating and their camera equipment taken to prevent the journalists’ independent coverage that day.
Repression and intimidation led journalists in Kismayo to resort to self-censorship for fear of possible detention, torture or even death. SJS and SOMA documented five cases of journalists, some of whom fled Kismayo, while others chose to refrain from reporting election-related issues or reports that could irritate the Jubbaland authorities.
In Hirshabelle, on 31 January, police officers in Jowhar, under the command of Police Commissioner Hassan Dhi’isow, called by phone and threatened Tusmo TV reporter Abdirahman Shamcun after the journalist posted a video on his Facebook containing the complaints by Shiidle elders of the Bantu minority community. Shiidle elders complained that the selection of their two seats had been mishandled accusing Hirshabelle president Ali Abdullahi Hussein (Gudlawe) of embezzling the delegate selection process. According to the journalist, On the same day Hirshabelle police spokesman Diini Roble called reporter Shamcun and asked about his whereabouts and an hour later NISA and police raided the journalist’s headquarters in Jowhar. However, the journalist fled after his family advised him to leave.
Beledweyne journalists have been denied access, despite the state’s indirect election team’s commitment to accredit journalists. Reporters in the city were stopped and harassed on 20 February as the voting of a parliamentary contested by the former NISA commander Fahad Yasin took place in the city. Local reporters reported that they were blocked from the hall when they approached as roads in the city were closed that day with most traffic blocked and public movement restricted by the Gorgor and Haramcad forces. A rival candidate who protested about the election process was prevented from speaking to the media, although one Mogadishu-based media outlet later broadcasted the protester’s speech.
In Mogadishu, independent media outlets and their journalists were not allowed to cover the proceedings of the Lower House election for the Somaliland clans in Mogadishu from late January to February. Journalists said that although they had been given entry cards during the Upper House elections, they were informed by the electoral staff that reporters could not come to the Hangar inside Mogadishu Airport where the voting took place. NISA officers and police locked the venue to prevent journalists from entering the hall. Journalists cited the fact that the process was murky and some legitimate candidates were not allowed to contest as the reason to block independent media.
South West State
In South West State, Journalists have given up their intention to cover Lower House election in the regional state as in November due to the pressure, repression and intimidation from South West officials. The intimidation came into effect in late October 2021 when police at Baidoa Airport targeted and detained eight local media journalists who were at the airport to report an election campaign by an opposition contender. On 16 February, NISA officers entered a hotel in Baidoa where an opposition parliamentary candidate was holding a press conference and ordered journalists out of the hotel by threatening to beat and arrest them.
Journalists said the parliamentary election process in South West was largely run by relatives and family members of Southwestern President Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed (Laftagaren) and had weaponised security forces to threaten journalists and block independent media access to election stations or places where clan delegates met.
In Barawe, on 17 February, South West State Parliament Speaker Ali Said Faqi, had instructed NISA officers in Barawe and his personal bodyguards to arrest journalist Osman Aweys Bahar who works for the community-owned Radio Barawe. That was a day after the journalist published a video interview of Mr. Faqi. The interview which journalist Bahar conducted contained critical questions on Mr. Faqi’s (now MP-elect) role in “the malpractice of the electoral process in South West and blocking rival candidates”. On 24 February, a police officer informed journalist Bahar that a case against him was brought at the Barawe police station by unnamed officials.
Puntland officials held the Lower House elections inside at military bases in Garowe and Bossaso. Journalists said live television coverage has been barred, with a small number of journalists getting access to the 54th Division military camp in Garowe. Opposition figures were not permissible to be interviewed. In Bosaso, the base of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) was used as another polling station, to which local journalists did not have access.
In Galmudug, NISA officers blocked independent journalists from covering the voting process in Dhusamareb. Journalists’ access was blocked in particularly on 14 February during the election of Abdullahi Kulane, an ex-NISA officer, and on 25 November during the election of the current acting NISA commander, Yasin Farey. Journalists in Dhusamareb had been instructed not to interview candidates complaining against the anomalies of the process. Journalists said NISA officers loyal to Abdullahi Kulane and Yasin Farey approached reporters and ordered them to leave as they interviewed female candidates who protested against the malpractice that took place in Dhusamareb.
“The Somali leaders failed to uphold their commitment to allow journalists to observe and report on the electoral process. Journalists across the country have been denied access, threatened and some even forced to flee their hometowns. Now the question is about the legitimacy of a parliament and a government formed out of this murky process where journalists were threatened and independent coverage blocked,” Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the Secretary General of Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said.
“We condemn the restrictions, intimidations and threats subjected to the Somali media community across the country. We demand accountability on those who involved in these violations and provision of access to journalists and media coverage to inform the citizens,” Mohamed Osman Makaran, the Secretary General of Somali Media Association (SOMA) said.