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Last updated: June 2022

This profile refers to journalists and their situation in relation to potential targeting by different actors throughout Somalia.

COI summary

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 7]

Somalia has been described as one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism. State and federal government authorities as well as Al-Shabaab militants and private individuals are potential perpetrators of verbal or physical violence. Incidents of violence against journalists have been reported in South-Central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland. Female journalists are exposed to additional risks such as gender-based violence and face social and cultural restrictions.

The types of violence reportedly carried out against journalists range from harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention to physical attacks, abductions and killings. Shut down of media houses and dismissals of journalists or other restrictions have been imposed for various reasons, e.g. publicly voicing criticism against the government.

Incidents of arbitrary arrests and harassment of journalists by SPF and other Somali state and federal authorities have been reported in 2020 and 2021 [Actors, 2.4.6, 7.3.5, 7.4.5]. Furthermore, throughout 2020, the government of Somaliland used arbitrary detention in order to suppress certain reporting by journalists, especially concerning topics related to unification with Somalia or disputed territories with Puntland. In May 2021, it was reported that the government of Somaliland has increasingly adopted a tough stance towards the media. In March 2021, an increasing ‘crackdown’ on media freedom ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2021 was reported in Puntland.

Al-Shabaab has also threatened with death or even killed journalists reporting critically on the group and its activities.

Furthermore, journalists frequently faced charges under the Somali Penal Code, applicable across Somalia. Amendments to the existing legal framework of media activities have been adopted in South-Central Somalia and Puntland. However, they have been criticised as lacking in the protection of journalists and their work. In South-Central Somalia, the law still prohibits the reporting on issues conflicting with ‘national interest’, ‘false information’, ‘incitement to violence and clannism’ and ‘dissemination of propaganda’ and contains penalties that can be widely interpreted. Amendments to the law regulating the media in Somaliland, expected to decriminalise many media-related offenses, were being prepared, however, as of July 2021, the modifications remain in draft.

Assaults against journalists are challenging to report to the police, as it is often the security forces themselves that exert violence against and pressure on journalists.

Despite the competence of civilian courts, journalists are often subjected to military tribunals. The judiciary in Somalia, including in Puntland and Somaliland, has reportedly played a key role in violations of rights of journalists, convicting journalists in the majority of cases based on bogus charges, delivering hasty judgements based on unsubstantiated grounds, authorising the detention of journalists following complaints made by people in power. In Somaliland, prison terms ranging from a few days to several months as well as fines, have been handed down in cases involving investigations into corruption or other topics deemed sensitive by the authorities.

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. killing, arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, abduction, physical violence).

In the case of journalists seen as critical of an actor particularly active in a specific area or in control of a specific area, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated in that specific area.

In the case of other journalists, not all individuals would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: gender (higher risk for women), the topic they report on, visibility of activities and public profile, reach of the actors they report on, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion. In case of targeting by Al-Shabaab, persecution of this profile may also be for reasons of religion.