Amnesty International Regional Office for East and Southern Africa, Human Rights Watch and Committee to Protect Journalists have written to Somalia President Mohamed Farmaajo calling for protection of the media ahead of elections in the country.
The lobby groups in the joint letter demand for the amendment of the new media law and refraining from making statements that place journalists at risk
“In the run-up to the national elections expected to take place in late 2020 or early 2021, the government’s commitment to free and independent reporting is especially important. Creating a conducive legal and security environment for the media requires important measures by your office and government,” the lobbyists say,
The civil society organisations say they are concerned by the comments President Farmaajo made about the media on September 26, where he claimed the media is acting unprofessionally, and linked some journalists to Al-Shabaab.
“Such comments place Somali journalists, who already operate in a volatile context, at risk of reprisals and undermine the positive commitments made regarding media freedom,” they say in the letter.
In addition, they say the new media law also includes provisions that threaten human rights, including freedom of expression, and could criminalise reporting and give the government overly broad powers and oversight over media organizations.
WITHOUT PROVIDING ANY EVIDENCE, @M_Farmaajo attacks Somali journalists tonight; suggests some lack knowledge and experience while others may have links with Al-Shabaab. This comes just days after he signed a controversial media law that press freedom watchdogs said was draconian. pic.twitter.com/cmGri8gXfP
— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) September 27, 2020
“The provisions on criminal penalties are vaguely worded and could give law enforcement authorities wide scope for misinterpretation and abuse. These include the provision prohibiting reporting on issues conflicting with “national interest”, “false information”, “incitement to violence and clannism” and “dissemination of propaganda”, they note.
They argue the law that he signed in August directly contradicts his May 3 commitment to decriminalize journalism through its provision of legal sanctions for media offenses.
Furthermore, the lobbies note the law also contains administrative restrictions that give the Ministry of Information a broad mandate to regulate the media and media practitioners.