Somali president’s loathing war on media is dangerous, Journalists say

Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, whose government is rated as the worst oppressor of freedom of speech in Somalia, has this week instigated a new hostility against journalists and the media.

Journalists have said they felt upset about President’s comments and described it as dangerous and could promote assaults on free press.

Speaking in an event in Mogadishu Thursday, President Farmajo, who just completed his second anniversary in office, said that bigger news media houses report troubles and that they carry on to demoralize the public through reporting of ‘bad news’ of the government.

The insecure Farmajo blamed overseas-based journalists for creating what he called “sensational news” to draw attention of their audience.

“Because they are in a mortgage and have standing car loans and houses. They only think about their families.” he said

“They do not express kindness to the people and the country.” Mr. Farmajo who was referring anti-Somalia Oil Conference protest in London on the same day further lamented.

While journalists in Somalia have taken the burden of self-censorship for fear of reprisals, the President alludes independent views as “disheartening to the public”.

Somalia is ranked as worst place to be a journalist, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Scary to be a journalist in Somalia

For journalist Hassan Istiila, Mogadishu Bureau Chief of the privately-owned CBA TV, the president’s remarks were not only implicating the already endangered messengers as propaganda agents but also endangering their lives.

“The president ignored what we have done [for the country].” Istiila told Horn Globe News, “It is very scary to be a journalist in Somalia.”

Somalia is ranked as worst place to be a journalist, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) with 66 journalists killed since the advocacy group began counting journalists deaths in 1992.  38 of them were singled out for murder with impunity not only by al-Shabaab but government soldiers as well. The Horn of African country was recently declared the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International, the international campaign group.

Of the 50 nations designated as not free, the Freedom House in World Report 2019 ranked Somalia among the 13 countries with most aggregate scores for political rights and civil liberties.

SBS TV cameraman, Abdirisak Kasim Iman, was shot dead by a police officer at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu | PHOTO NUSOJ.

One of the unsolved cases is the July 26, 2018 killing of SBS TV cameraman, Abdirisak Kasim Iman, who was shot dead by a police officer at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu.

The killer police officer disappeared from the checkpoint at the Peace Garden following the killing. However, he’s retained his position as ‘police officer’ and is currently roaming freely in Mogadishu, sources told Horn Globe. An attempt by the cameraman’s family to lodge a complaint to the court was too blocked.

By late December, CPJ said it was investigating two additional journalist deaths that occurred in Somalia in 2018, as well as the deaths of Awil Dahir Salad and his three colleagues killed in car bomb on the same day.

Journalists and members of the pubic attend during burial of late journalist Awil Dahir Salad and colleagues killed in Mogadishu car bomb on Dec 22, 2018.

Electronic warriors

In the past two years, multiple sources said, Mr. Farmajo administration had set off a nationalist propaganda force and hired hundreds of electronic warriors to discredit independent media reports and brand critics as ‘traitors’. The militant group al-Shabaab on its turn refers journalists as ‘spies and enemies of the Islam’ to justify attacks on the members of the press.

Facebook is wildly popular in Somalia, with more than 70% of the online users on it, according to a Dublin-based web traffic analysis tool, StatCounter.

“These are paid groups organized to threaten, harass and discredit reporters. Each of them maintains numerous Facebook accounts,” said a member of Somalia parliament, Abdihakim Ahmed who spoke on the menace “they try to engulf news reports with mistruths.”

 

In November last year, the National Union of Somali journalists (NUSOJ) blasted the current government over conducting a “Threat or Bribe” policy on media houses and journalists.

“The Prime Minister’s Office was linked to most of the alleged threats and jailing of journalists.” NUSOJ Secretary General Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu said during a press conference in Mogadishu following the arrest of online journalist Nur Ismail Sheikh. He was released after spending more than 10 days in prison.

Moalimu mentioned the union had recorded cases of threats and arrests of journalists who did not toe to the line of the government.

“The current government of Prime Minister Khaire is the worst oppressor of freedom of speech in Somalia.” the NUSOJ leader rated.

Another journalist who received threats from the government is Mohamed Ibrahim Bulbul, a local TV reporter and Al-Jazeera contributor in Mogadishu.

“Unfortunately Somali president attempts to portray journalists who refused bribes as traitors,” Bulbul said.  “Bribing media houses will only increase the dangers the journalists face in their day-to-day life.”

Farmajo’s statement has also sent a chill through journalists in exile.

 

Abdiasis Barrow, a Nairobi-based journalist, who years ago fled the country after getting taunting threats, says President’s speech on Thursday was enough to take as a warning call to the media workers.

“Journalists fled the country due to the insecurity and fear for their lives. Those who hoped to return like me would not dare now.” Barrow told Horn Globe News. “This, to me, will propel more journalists to exile as it encourages hatred against media.”

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