A media watchdog in Somalia says the government is pressuring one of its leaders to stop criticizing authorities.
Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, secretary-general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), is out on bail after two arrests in October for what officials called “security-related charges.”
But the SJS alleges that Ministry of Information representatives approached it with an offer to drop those charges on the condition that Mumin cease his media advocacy and avoid future criticism of authorities.
The SJS said the ministry also demanded that the association apologize and agree to abide by an October 8 directive banning the dissemination of content from al-Shabab. A ministry official denied that any such conversation took place.
Representatives were sent by Deputy Minister of Information Abdirahman Yusuf Adala to present the offer at a meeting Tuesday, according to SJS lawyer Abdirahman Osman and another media advocate, who were both present.
SJS president Mohamed Ibrahim, speaking with VOA about the conditions of the proposed deal, said the first one was “that Abdalle Ahmed Mumin keeps quiet, stops media advocacy and stop criticizing the government, while the second one was that [SJS and other media associations] should publish an apology regarding their joint statement against the directive of [the] Ministry of Information.” The statement warned that the directive risked putting journalists in danger and said al-Shabab might target journalists for siding with the government.
However, the deputy information minister denied such an offer was made. In a text message to VOA, Yusuf Adala said: “We have no information about what they are talking about. The case is in court and we [can do] nothing, no (other) choice.”
The head of the SJS believes that Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Barre and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud should hold officials from the Ministry of Information accountable for what he saw as an attempt to suppress the media and free speech.
“Today, knowing that the Constitution protects the freedom of expression and media independence, it is sad that today, the Constitution is violated and is intended to suppress the media,” Ibrahim said.
Perilous for journalists
Somalia is the most dangerous country in Africa for journalists, with militant attacks being the biggest threat, media watchdogs say.
Said Yusuf, a photographer with the European Pressphoto Agency, believes the government should do more to support the media.
“As journalists in Mogadishu,” Yusuf said, “we have been facing many challenges and suppressions. We need to get a conducive environment and we ask the government to ease the suppression so that we get the freedom to look for news, and we appeal for our right to have freedom of expression, which is an essential one.”
Somali officials say directives on media coverage are part of their efforts to fight al-Shabab. Journalists warn, however, that such an approach risks limiting editorial independence and could deny the public its right to know.