October 24, 2016
The United States of America, United Nations, African Union, European Union, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Denmark, Ethiopia, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and United Kingdom urge the Federal Government of Somalia to promote and protect the universally recognized rights of freedom of expression and association, enshrined in the Provisional Constitution, and to investigate and swiftly bring to justice those who violate these freedoms and threaten those who exercise them.
The ability to exercise these rights, free of intimidation and penalty, is critical to enable the Somali public to hold government officials accountable and for political candidates to organize and communicate with the public. This is particularly important as the electoral process enters a new phase in which 14,000 delegates will assemble across the country to elect MPs for the Lower House.
In August, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) released a comprehensive report on freedom of expression in Somalia, which documented violations of free expression by state and non-state actors since 2012, including killings, beatings, harassment, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, lack of due process or fair trial guarantees, and closure of media outlets. At least five journalists have been killed already this year, and authorities rarely investigate such violations or prosecute perpetrators, reinforcing a culture of impunity. At least 16 journalists and media actors have been arrested in Somalia since August, with six arrested in October alone, and three media outlets have been raided and shut down in recent weeks.
International partners condemn the harassment, arrest, and killings of journalists and media personnel in Somalia. We note with great concern what appears to be a growing trend curtailing freedom of expression – be it media reporting, public assembly, or the rights of candidates to campaign.
Interference in political activities appears to have been ongoing for months, with an increase following the July 9 letter from the Minister of Internal Security banning all meetings in hotels in Mogadishu without prior approval from the ministry. NISA officers have broken up meetings and rallies in Mogadishu. Mogadishu Mayor Yusuf Hassan Jimale announced on September 19 that demonstrations by members of opposition parties would not be allowed in the capital. Airport security officials temporarily banned all media outlets from entering the airport compound, in response to the electoral period. Regulation of public events is necessary but must not inhibit freedom of expression and association by the public. While authorities cite security concerns, only political activities of opposition groups seem to have been affected by such restrictions.
International partners call on Somali authorities and all actors to allow all Somali citizens to practice and benefit from their rights of free expression and association, take immediate steps to protect the safety and the rights of journalists to operate in Somalia, and ensure in the coming weeks an enabling environment for public participation in discourse linked to the democratic transition, as a contribution to a more democratic and inclusive process.