Somali Government Detains Record Number of Journalists

07 January 2020

A media organization in Somalia reported last week that Somali government forces beat and detained a record number of journalists last year. That information left some people wondering if the government is restricting investigation of its security record before elections later this year.

For years, the militant group al Shabaab was accused of targeting Somali journalists. The number of killings has decreased, although two journalists were among those killed in a bombing last year. Now media say they face a new danger: government forces.

State security forces detained 38 journalists in Somalia in 2019. That information comes from Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, secretary general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate. He says most were detained while reporting on bombings or militant attacks. Some media workers were reporting on corruption.

Somali journalists in Mogadishu, Somalia, December 29, 2019.
Somali journalists in Mogadishu, Somalia, December 29, 2019.

"The government is not allowing journalists to report," Mumin said. Officials rarely report the number of victims from incidents like a recent truck bombing, which killed around 90 people.

Mumin's report says that in most cases, detained journalists are not charged and are released after hours or days.

Last year, 37 journalists were beaten, shot at or threatened at gunpoint in Somalia, mostly by state security forces, the report said.

Somalia's police spokeswoman, the interior minister and information ministry spokesman did not answer requests for comment.

Suppression of information

There is no public database of attacks and bombings in Somalia. The country's citizens usually hear about attacks through the media. However, while the size of bombings is increasing, journalists say news coverage is decreasing.

Farhan Mohamed Hussein is a reporter for Radio Kulmiye, a privately owned station. Hussein said he was arrested three times last year and twice the year before. Once police blindfolded him and beat him with their guns, he said. Another time, they destroyed his camera.

Hussein added, "Many people see you as an enemy when they see you have a camera. Reporters are victims of the government which was supposed to work with them..."

He also said that journalists have been banned from parliament and ignored by spokesmen who only release official statements on social media.

Abdalle Ahmed Mumin confirmed the ban. He added that the upper legislature is considering a bill to further restrict media freedom.

Nimco Mohamed Bashir is director of the privately owned Rajo Television Network. She said the government restricts reporting in a way that political killings never had.

Bashir said that government officials "openly tell you ‘no covering stories of blasts.'" After she reported news of one bombing on Facebook, she said, police came to her home to arrest her and threatened her family.

Aamin Ambulance is often the only source about deaths or injuries from militant attacks. Doctor Abdikadir Aden is the head of the privately run service. He told the Reuters news agency that in April, government officials asked the service to stop releasing numbers of dead and wounded. Aden noted that the government also tried to restrict emergency medical vehicles from explosion sites.

Government officials did not answer Reuters' requests for comment.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Katharine Houreld reported this story for the Reuters news agency. Jonathan Evans adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

journalist -n. a member of the press; a reporter

allow – v. to permit something

blindfolded – adv. with the eyes covered by a piece of cloth

coverage – n. the activity of reporting about an event or subject in newspapers, on television news programs, etc.

database – n. a collection of pieces of information that is organized and used on a computer

(at) gunpoint – n. under a threat of death by being shot